When Jesus regards the rich young man who wants to be his disciple with love and then tells him to go and sell all that he has and give it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31), we usually interpret his instructions as a call to make sure that we have our priorities straight and we resolve, once again, to keep the spiritual goals for our lives ahead of the material ones. But what if this account is also a reminder to us that God intends to use the rich to provide for the needs of the poor? What if Jesus' instructions to the young man are actually a specific expression of a larger Biblical teaching–that attention to the needs of the poor is a central calling for those with means?
Here at Valpo, we talk about "calling" or "vocation" a lot. Usually we're referring to the quest meaningful work, but there’s a long history of using the idea of "calling" for all sorts of tasks and roles in life. Parents have a calling to care for their children, students have a calling to study and citizens have a calling to the duties of citizenship. Lutheran Christians sometimes take this a step further, recognizing their callings and that of others as the means by which God works in the world. So God cares for children through caring parents. God heals us through the skilled work of medical professionals and God makes good on the promise of daily bread, even for the poor through the service of people who have the ability to share what they have with those who are in need.
Maybe you don't think of yourself as rich. After all, everyone knows that students don't have any money. But according to the World Bank, all it takes is an annual income of $34,000 to be numbered among the richest 1% in the world. Students may not be seeing that kind of income today, but most are studying with an expectation that they'll see something north of that figure in the very near future.
So, what are we to do? Some among us have taken this calling to heart and have a long-standing practice of generously blessing the poor. Others of us still struggle to make it a regular part of our lives or despair that anything worth doing can actually be done. It's a complicated world. None of the answers come easily so it's a good thing that Jesus isn't demanding that we get it all right before he'll look upon us with love.
Perhaps this is the day when we can begin to think seriously about what it would mean to work little by little toward a more fulfilling life of grateful giving. If we don't have any money but we have the vocation to study then perhaps we will include in our studies a growing understanding of how it is that in a world as productive as ours so many continue in poverty. If we don't have a dollar in our pocket but we have the calling of citizenship, perhaps we will enter the voting booth next month not only with our own interests at heart but those of the poor as well.
May God bless your path.Pr. Jim
Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors and take turns writing weekly reflections.