Living with the insecurity of the poorest

This morning I woke up with the thought that the whole world is now experiencing the insecurity which most of the world has been experiencing.

Years ago I heard one way to distinguish the poor and the non-poor: the poor wake up each morning and don’t know if they’ll be able to survive the day, if they’ll be able to get food for their family, if they will live through the day. The non-poor wake up and have no serious questions about where their food will come from, where they will live, how they will earn their daily bread, if they will survive the day, alive and healthy.

This is, of course, an over-simplification, but it opens us to understanding poverty.

Poverty is extreme vulnerability and includes the lack of security.

Most of us want security – some, more than others. That’s why we accumulate things and have our cupboards full.

What happens when insecurity raises its head?

We look for other forms of security. The accumulation of weapons by nations and individuals is one way we try to make ourselves secure.

We seek to have what we think we will need, to the point of hoarding. The rush for toilet paper in the US is symbolic.

We look for diversions, spring break trips, alcohol, pornography, for the temporary security of escape from what we feel threatening.

But the poor confront insecurity every day. And this crisis makes it even worse.

How do they respond? Here’s what I’ve seen.

Some become passive – and even justify their poverty as the will of God.

Some cling to a false faith – that God will rescue us, if he wants to, and the elect will not be affected.

Some hoard. Some steal. Some resent the good fortune of their neighbors and resort to backbiting and speaking ill of others.

Some revolt – taking to the streets to clamor for food.

Some find ways to work the system so that they get what they need, and more than they need, from institutions that are providing help. They complain when institutions put the needs of the poorest first.

Some respond and share food and more with their neighbors in need.

Some even get together and try to work out ways to work together for the good of all – especially those who are suffering the most.

How then are we responding?

Are we making sure that we have enough or are we also looking for ways so that other can have what they need?

Are we just responding to the immediate needs or are we looking for ways to forge a society where we work together for the good of all?

Are we doing all we can to assure our health and our salvation or are we looking for ways to work with God and with God’s people for the health and salvation of all the world, especially those on the margins of society?

Are we looking to a new world where justice and peace flourish and where we share at the common table of this good earth

Today the world can recognize that we are in this boat together. We cannot have our isolated, sterile, germ-free fortresses where we can flourish while others suffer. We are in this together.

For us believers, it should be clear that our salvation depends on God and how we respond to others.

There is a story that someone appears before God and awaits God’s judgment. But God asks, “Where are all the rest?”

There is another version in which God asks, “Where are your wounds?”

Where are all the rest in our lives of faith and love? Where are the wounds we have suffered responding to the needs of the impoverished and oppressed?

Where am I?






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