Lately I have been assaulted by some very interesting questions springing from conversations that I have had with people who come from third world countries. One of the reasons that this
is an important question to me is that we have a situation concerning Jesus that seems to say that conspicuous excessive consumption is sometimes OK, even if some would say that better use could have been found for the money.
Notice the the negative comment about "...this could have been given to the poor..." is credited to the one apostle who is described as "Zealot". He was an anti-Roman activist. Activists usually do not have too much discretionary income because they are busy keeping themselves in the face of those they hope to bring down. Notice that the "middle class" fishermen and others who were members of the active economy did not find this an extravagant opulence.
"Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,
7 There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath a wrought a good work upon me.
11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
12 For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it a for my burial.
13 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her." Matthew 26; 6-13)
Nevertheless, I continue to have some weighty questions about how "poor" people expect to acquire money, goods or services and how they go about spending the liquid cash that they get their hands on and using the goods that they either buy or receive.
The answers to these questions are important because I, like the rest of you donate a certain percentage of my personal, "discretionary" assets in favor of the "poor".
I know for a fact that in a certain third world country, McDonalds is a very popular place, even in the far-flung, very low income provinces (About $500.oo annual family income).
A visitor from the United States who witnessed this asked me, "If these people constantly complain that they have no money, why do they flock to the McDonalds where a hamburger costs one-half a day's wages?"
My answer was simple, "It's your hard earned money that they are spending, not theirs. They have a lot of money, yours."
I am very familiar with some people who consider themselves "poor" because every "discretionary" penny that they have they send to their children who remained behind in the homeland. I have to shake my head in disbelief when I see them cutting the dishwashing soap to half water to make it last longer and then giving the left-over food from a meal to the feral cats who hang around knowing full well what is coming to them every evening.
When I inquire about this practice the answer is straightforward, "we never reheat anything that is not eaten at the meal for which is it intended."
I fire back the question, "Then why don't you get rid of your refrigerator?" Silence. Followed by more "poverty".
Over a year ago my wife and I decided to get along with one automobile for the both of us. When we really need a second car for a few days, we rent one. I travel somewhat, so when I have to travel, I drive the hybrid and the rental serves as the commuter for a few days.
About four weeks ago a person declined to register a child for a year in the Faith Formation Program because she did not want to spend the extra $25.00. I noticed that the SUV that she drove off in might get her across the street for $25.00 worth of gasoline. "Poverty" rolls on.
Back in December, just after September 11, 2001 I was coming back to the United States from Mexico. Since the line was very long and slow, I bought a newspaper to pass the time as I crept toward the "line." The lead article on the front page was about the economic impact that the new situation would have in Mexico. It was estimated that more than 1 billion dollars would not flow into Mexico during the month of December because of the difficulty of travel between the United States and Mexico. When I looked it up further upon reaching home, it was confirmed.
It was also confirmed that the Philippines would also lose an enormous amount of money for the same reasons. Name a second or third world country and you will know that the gross national "product" of that country is the influx of US dollars from its expatriates.
So, since so much money is going to the "common people", the governing politicians keep the people's money for themselves rather than usuing it to create opportunity, and poverty rolls on.
I sat in on a conversation the other day that was rather disheartening. An 85 year old lady with a large family in a third world country was tearfully relating the behavior of her children back home. She sends back just about every dollar that she has after food and rent.
Her children there have decided that it is easier to live off the exchange of their mother's contribution than to work the 30 acres that are theirs. They have taken second deeds out on some of the land, which they do not till and use the money for frivolous things. They have sold some of the land out from under one or the other of their siblings and have forged the signatures of other members o the family to get frivolous things that they crave.
In the meantime they forget to pay the tuition of their children who are in college without telling them. The children come home in disgrace. When they achieve majority they find a way to get employment in another country through an agent who charges exhorbitant fees for the "favor." And the poverty rolls on.
Here in the good ol' USA, we have a poverty of a different sort. No one sends us money, except our own government. So, we take the money from the government, squander it, and ask for more. A goodly number of us maintain ourselves in poverty by enslaving ourselves to the credit masters. One of the greatest sins is that of usury, but we here in this country keep flying around the flame, oblivious to the harm that it causes us. Poverty marches on.
Some of us get entrepreneurial and traffic in drugs and get real rich, real fast. A goodly number who do that don't ever get to be poor again. They also don't get to be very old.
For two years I worked as General Manager of Human Reources for a 100 million dollar per year company in Santa Fe Springs, California. We participated in the local program to put welfare people to work. We would pay them the minimum wage and the local government would match what we paid for six months. At the end of that time, the employee would then be trained to work for us and make a living wage.
After two years and over 120 welfare hires later, two of the hires had succeeded to finish the program and were still employed. I can't begin to tell you the number of lies I heard during those two years. We put nary a ding in the poverty of Los Angeles County with our outreach.
There are those of you who will not like it when I say that it is not only the rich who cause the perpetuation of poverty. The poor are as responsible for their situation as the rich are. (See, "credit") I am also convinced that all of the elemosinary efforts of all the philanthropists and all the governments in the world will not solve the problem of poverty.
So what do I do to contribute to the solution of the poverty problem? Nothing. I participate in the poverty. I am not an acquirer of toys; I am not an acquirer of clothing, furniture, autos, etc. I deny myself many comforts; I am totally anti-bling. I suffer the pains of advancing age with few if any complaints and little drug ingestion; I share all that I have and even some of what I could have with my family; I write, I teach, I try to facilitate life for others by training them and preparing them to do things that will make them happy. I have one wife. I thank God for that.
I am a cranky, acrimonious curmudgeon with a warped sense of humor that some people enjoy and others despise, but as long as I am spreading it around, I don't care who the "enjoyers" and the "despisers" are. I don't keep secrets. I think it is immoral to make people think that I have a secret that could make them better, or happier. I think that it is immoral to keep something to myself out of fear that someone might get better at it than I and "beat me" out of something that I could keep for myself. Nope, not me.
If taking me makes you happy, take me. If you don't like me, go somewhere else. That, in my mind is the true definition of poverty, being happy with what you have and who you are, period. If that satisfaction wears off on those who come in contact with it, it means that Jesus is using me for something good.
There, I've got it off my chest. If I die now you'll know that I died happy, so don't you dare shed a tear. You can even say bad things about my opinions concerning poverty and I won't care.
You can even say them now, right to my face, if you promise not to cry at my funeral.
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