A great gulf

“You have the poor with you always”. These, we are told, are the words of Jesus (John 12:8). They sound like a resigned sigh. We will never be able to get rid of poverty. And so it seems so when we look around. Though there are United Nations reports of the diminution of poverty in some parts of the world, the evidence all around us is of people trapped in their poverty with no apparent way out.

Meanwhile there are others who can give their children $1000 pocket money and live in exclusive suburbs surrounded by walls. They are not bad people – but they often cannot see the huge gulf between their way of life and that of the poor. Or if they do see it they say it is not their job to do anything about it.

Jesus knew about this and he told a story of a rich man who dressed in purple and feasted every day. He was probably not a bad man but he just had his eyes closed to the poverty of the man at his gate. When they both die Abraham is introduced as telling the rich man that there is a “great gulf” between him and the poor man now, who is being comforted in heaven.

The gulf in the future life is unbridgeable, but the one in this life is not. There are countless stories of people realising the outrage of the gap between the rich and the poor and devoting their lives to doing something about it. Despite the poverty trap we see all around us, there is such mobility in our world today that it is possible to – dare I say it – prove Jesus wrong: we don’t have to have the poor with us always.

Information is everywhere and can be communicated instantly to anyone. Democracy and accountability is growing despite starts and stops, starts and stops. There is a report this week of an old priest refusing to leave his community of 75 Christians and a couple of thousand Muslims holed up in Homs (Syria) unable to move more than a kilometre in any direction. They are running out of food and facing the winter cold with blown-out doors and windows. It is a desperate situation but they know that the world knows. This gives them hope. Theirs is just one more story that can swell the progress towards peace.

But what is difficult to penetrate is the human heart, which often sets itself to ignore and shut out the knowledge of the poor man at my gate. I just don’t want to know. The prophet Amos said almost 3000 years ago, “Woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion.” It is a warning still starkly applicable today.

Post published in: Faith

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