One of the first reactions I’ve noticed first world folks experiencing upon entering the third world is a recognition of the stark disparity: they have so very little. We have so much.
But the more I engage with real people “that have nothing” (according to our standards), the more I think Jesus wasn’t talking in some loose metaphor when he said “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20).
Because when it comes down to it, that stuff we are so grateful that we have and so sad that they don’t, the physical, material stuff,
and the warm houses
and the shiny cars
and the 401(k) s
and the college funds
and the busyness
and the meetings
and the programs
and the unlimited resources
and the bright lights
oh, and the running water and warm showers and such,
it can be (and often is) a big wall, built up brick by brick, thing by thing, between us and the heart of God.
I don’t think the rich first world is out of God’s reach or beyond His love. But I get what Jesus was saying when he exclaimed to the rich young ruler “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:18-29)
Lately, when I’m with the poor people we tend to feel bad for, the very least of these with few material possessions and (maybe) a couple of dollars to their name, when I’m with them, I see joy.
Joy that’s unhindered by wealth and stuff.
Joy that’s full and vibrant and beautiful.
Joy that’s unadulterated and simple and pure and so near to the very heart of God.
Joy that knows the fragility of life, the reality of death, the practice of presence in this moment because it’s all we have.
When I experience that full, untainted joy, it’s the wealthy first world I start to ache for a bit. Because I want them to know this kind of joy and this fullness of life. And it’s not that they can’t experience it, but it’s harder. I’m sure of that.
It’s what Mother Theresa meant when she said that in heaven we will know “how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.”
This is joy.
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
photo credits + copyright: Margaret Michael, Suzanne Charette, Krisy Cone, and Heidi Dove