Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Wealth, Poverty and Live 8

John Kapsalis

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The recent Live 8 concerts and efforts on behalf of rock stars to help make poverty history begs the question: Has the Church abdicated its most important ministry to musicians? Justice and charity are intertwined all over Scripture and are the personification of God's mercy to the world. The Church throughout history has reinvigorated and redirected not only its own energies, but also political and social will to help alleviate the poverty in the world. But with 50,000 people dying each day in Africa because of horrendous disease and malnutrition it seems we have become too focused on self, the pleasures of this world, and "naming and claiming" our own blessings to worry about the suffering around us.

The wealth of the earth is for all the people of the earth and not for the private use of a few. Our responsibility to the poor must extend beyond the occasional alms giving, because in actuality, the poor have a moral claim on everything that sits idle in our possession. John Chrysostom says that not to share our possessions is nothing less than theft. "The bread you keep belongs to the hungry; the coat you store in your closet belongs to the naked man; the shoes sitting in your house belong to those who are barefooted; the money you keep hidden belongs to the needy. Thus, you are committing as many injustices as there are people to whom you can give."

The Church too, if she is to be a true witness to the world and demonstrate true koinonia to the world needs to return to the apostolic tradition of sharing wealth collectively, transparently and discerningly. The Church herself is but a trustee of all that God has entrusted to her. Perhaps, we need to spend less adorning icons of Christ and more on tending to Christ who lays in abject squalor "despised...wounded...and oppressed" (Is 53:3-8) because of disease, famine and war. We can no longer be satisfied with the crumbs we offer as an appeasement of our collective conscience. Theology, says historian Demetrios Constantelos, "exists for the ministry of the Church, and the ministry of the Church exists for society and the world." Christian charity and justice is how we demonstrate God's love to the world. A worldly Church cannot reach the world. Basil the Great, the original "rock star" philanthropist warns us that

If you have not been merciful, you will not receive mercy; if you have not opened your house to the poor, you will be locked out of the Kingdom of Heaven; if you have refused bread to the hungry, you will be deprived of eternal life.

The contemporary Christian lacks the demonstrable power of God because we have become indistinguishable from the non-Christian. Blinded by the materialistic and hedonistic pleasures of the world it's no wonder we have little to say to contemporary culture. We are trying to do what Christ said cannot be done: serve God and Money. Jesus' message to us is to give up any claims to the wealth of this world. To give, and give generously is the only way we can begin the process of de-deifying money. That means we give and help to the point that it affects our lifestyle. Peter in his desire to cling to this life told Jesus to "depart from me" (Lk 5:1-11). Either Peter leaves everything and follows Jesus or Jesus leaves Peter. In our world of consumerism and material comfort either we "follow" Him and leave our predictable, quiet, settled life to feed the hungry and clothe the naked or He departs from us.

Live 8's message was one of justice, not charity. The Christian message is that there is no justice without charity, because the essence of Christianity, says Chrysostom, is the seeking of the common good. "For nothing can so make a man an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors. Indeed, even though you fast, or sleep on hard ground, or even suffer unto death, but should you take no thought for your neighbor, you have done nothing great; despite what you have done, you still stand far from this model of a perfect Christian."

John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

Posted: 13 Jul 05

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