A teacher once told me about a trip he led with a group of students from a private school. The school, committed to experiential learning, let he and another teacher take students on a week long canoe trip down the Delaware River.
One evening, the two teachers decided to give a lesson on poverty and economic justice. They took the food for the evening meal and divided it among the students according to how food was distributed among the world’s population.
One student, the strongest, received the vast majority of the food. Two other students received a small portion. The remaining nine students got two tablespoons of rice. They did this with little introduction. It was simply their decision to distribute the food this way. When all was divided up, the teachers sat back and watched how the students responded.
I’ve heard of other leaders conducting similar meals. What made this one unique was how the teachers really let the scenario play out. They let the students go to bed hungry. The explanation and discussion didn’t take place until the following evening. It was a powerful, life transforming kind of experience few people could authentically pull off.
What I have learned from similar events is the “haves” never share. They always horde and present reasons why they deserve the full harvest. Eventually, they flaunt their wealth before the “have nots.” The “have nots” form a tight group. At first, they are bound by their complaints. But, eventually, their misery becomes fodder for dynamic community.
I think of this story when I read the Beatitudes, especially in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke, the poor, hungry, sad and reviled are blessed. The rich, full, happy and admired are condemned. It’s a lesson with intentional economic implications. But, I think we shouldn’t confine the lesson to a simple flipping of the social order.
In “the Message,” Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the Bible, it says, “it’s trouble ahead if you think you have made it. It’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself.” At the end of the day, nothing we possess is that enduring, not even ourselves. Seek out the gifts that endure and you will eventually see the face of God. (Luke 6: 20-26)