Thanksgiving: For Richer or Poorer
by Shawn McEvoy
The rich eat ham,
The poor eat tuna.
Doesn't take as long to cook,
So we eat soona.
The words of that heretofore unknown poem were uttered by my lifelong best friend sometime around our senior year of high school. He conjured it out of thin air while I was spending the night at his house. It was the result of one of those "I'm so tired I'm laughing at anything" sessions you'd often experience with close friends around midnight.
It was also the result of Jay's enduring awareness of the socio-economic differences between himself and many of his friends, like me, from the affluent north side of town. So whenever I think of ham, tuna, or Jay, I often think of richness and poorness as well.
Recently, thanks to a fantastic tour around the Missionary Learning Center, I was thinking about missions and outreach. It struck me as interesting that whenever a mission of mercy or evangelism is commissioned, it tends to be to an area where there is a high concentration of poverty, whether it's to India, Mexico, or inner-city Philadelphia. Well, yes, as it should be.
After all, Christ commanded us, if we loved Him, to tend to His lambs (John 21:15-17). James 2:15-16 admonishes us not to ignore those in need of food or clothing. Paul and the Apostles started churches among those who were poor (Acts 9:36; 10:4). Poverty was crippling in the time of Christ and so it continues to be now. The very fact that Jay had a roof over his head and the fish he despised came in a can rather than him having to catch it made him one of the wealthiest persons on the planet. So the holidays are certainly a time to think about - nay, physically assist - those less fortunate than ourselves (2 Corinthians 9:9).
Then again, are we missing something?
Consider James 1:9 - "Christians who are poor should be glad, for God has honored them." There are lots of ways to be poor, and Jesus told us they brought about blessing in the long run (Matthew 5:3-12). Those poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Those mourning loved ones will be comforted. Those who make peace rather than seeking their own profit will be called sons of God, Who chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith (James 2:5). 2 Corinthians 6:10 states: "Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything."
And what about the rich?
The news there is not so good. Jesus said it's very difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who love their life too much find it hard to lose it. James reminds us it's the rich who "oppress us and drag us into court, blaspheming the fair name by which we've been called (James 2:6-7)." The word "miserable" has at its root the word "miser." The love of money isn't just the source of evil, but can also contribute to depression and dissatisfaction.
So… doesn't that mean that the rich have just as many spiritual needs, if not more, than the poor? Who will go to them? Who will train them in the joy of giving their money away and not living by comparison to others? What mission trips are planned?
I contend that untold legions of us are making such a trip this very month, back home to our families and friends, where a big ham might fill the center of the table, people will put on their fineries, and a lot of the talk will focus on the daily drudgeries of keeping our precious lives in working order to cover up the hole that's getting bigger in the soul.
We might spend a few minutes at the table saying how we're thankful we're not like others, or that we have our health, or that our family is with us - before we stuff ourselves, stare blankly at the Detroit Lions (of all things) to avoid looking at each other, or fall asleep. You probably know someone for whom Thanksgiving is an unwelcome chore, a painful experience of dodging rejection, annoyance, questions of future or romance, and Uncle Jim-Bob.
Or, if you're truly rich, there will be genuine thanks, true giving, heartfelt prayers, and corporate worship. Regardless of income level.
Whatever the case in your gathering, let me encourage you to take the love of Christ with you and accept the difficult challenge of bringing it to the wealthy this Thanksgiving. Jesus said a camel fitting through a needle's-eye was difficult, not impossible (thank goodness for most of us in the U.S.).
Intersecting Faith & Life: While you're together, try to figure out a way your clan can come together to do something for the impoverished. Without that outpouring, the warm comfort of wealth can grow stale and dry. Meanwhile, the next time you think on the cloud of poverty and those who suffer at its chill, remember that, at least in the biblical view, it can carry a silver lining of comfort, inheritance, peace, and, I suppose, eating soona. And if those elements are present at your table, then you have a cornucopia indeed.