Psalm 73 speaks of the dangers of wealth. It speaks of getting fat, of not knowing the troubles of life and so becoming disconnected from others, and of the sinful levels of pride that grow some such a position. The line that really struck me today is “They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression…” It struck me hard because I know beyond any shadow of a doubt I have been in this position, arrogant and self-satisfied and so less willing to help others and more willing to uphold systemic oppressive measures.
It is the position that says tired people should get more discipline in their lives and learn to manage better
It is the position that says some people’s lives aren’t working out because they haven’t worked hard enough
It is the position that says why should I have too…just because they didn’t…
It is the position that says they deserve the trouble they are in
It is the position that says they should have thought about that when they bought the house way out in the suburbs
It is the position that says they should have known that when they took the first toke
It is the position that says she should just leave that @$$ hole who hits her
It is the position that says covid was fine for me and my family, church business, what’s wrong with “those” people and churches and businesses?
It is the position that says such and such could never happen to me because I am so put together.
It is a position many who live in the developed world have towards one another and often towards other parts of the world.
It is the position of a black and white world where everything is clearcut and obvious and when I cannot make sense of another person’s choice they must be foolish or wrong. It is a position that refuses to recognize that sometimes there is no good option, no healthy path forward, or no ability to make that choice.
The assumption underlying all this is that we have somehow earned our positions by “doing better” “working harder” or “making better choices”. That it is right that we should have a bit of money and food and stability, and the implication is that it is right for others not to. We struggle to recognize the privilege of the choices we have, and the abilities we have to make them.
Lent is a time for reflection, to me that means (among other things) slow reading. So I slowly read psalm 73 and find myself in it.
I can come up with all those examples and many more, and many far meaner ones, because I have thought them at some point in my life, they lack compassion and mercy and I am not proud of them, but I must recognize that truth if I am to work on it.
I come from wealth, I am not a self-made man, so to speak. I am not independently wealthy (far enough from it to not exactly know what that even means:) I have to work. Still, beside many folks around the planet I sure am rich. I own a home (carry a mortgage), have graduate degrees (yes multiple), I never worry about where my next meal comes from, I have family and friends, I am healthy, I have a job that I can be proud of and that interests me, and I belong somewhere. I work hard at these elements in life I see as worthy of investment. I am wealthy.
But to say that I made this be the case, that others who I might be inclined to look down upon or question could have done the same, is a lie the Devil (that king of deceit) would have me believe. It disconnects me from others, lowers my empathy, and my willingness to help. And yet I want to help!
I have inherited this in many ways, from modelling of how to parent and husband from my father and grandfathers, to actual cash as I come from a family that has been in Canada for many generations and thus has accumulated some means. I grew up assuming one went to university and have been shocked to learn how few people graduate, sheltered is the only word that comes to mind.
I am sharing all this because an important lenten liturgy is to repent, to stare into the face in the mirror and recognize where I am not living up to God (or my) standards. Too often I sit in the seat of scoffers, too often I buy into a dualistic mode of thinking that I know to be false intellectually but emotionally and spiritually I want to get to the place of compassion and mercy as an instinct rather than an intellectual conviction; just as one must know Jesus relationally not just dogmatically.
So I found a prayer about all this, a prayer that I would be molded more into the character of God. Maybe this lent you need this too,
Gracious Father, my heart has grown a little cold for some reason, and I am have lost touch with Your love and compassion for others. I ask You to please touch my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh that beats in unison with Your compassionate heart for those around me. Please open my spiritual eyes and lead me in Your love to others. Amen.