Tuesday, April 19, 2011

All Things Equal?

Our family has gotten to know a few kids over the last couple of years who come from very different homes than ours. They're growing up in such difficult circumstances. Missing Dads, stepdads in jail, Moms working the graveyard shift in factories, food stamps, months that start with lots of money and a kitchen full of food--ending with empty cupboards and no money. None for the $5 field trip, or for a pack of gum. I was watching kids make their way down to the bus stop this morning, and wondering how this happens, that in that big group, there can be such disparity.

I recalled a heated conversation I had years ago in a college Sociology class about equal opportunity, and how that's one of the things that makes America great. The frustration comes when there may be equal opportunity, but there is not equal experience. Opportunities are there for these kids; they are getting educated, for example, but is it equal to what my kid standing at the same bus stop is getting? When my kid was a baby, I was reading to him, and singing the alphabet with him. I was doing all the things they recommended, feeding him well, sleeping him well, engaging with him. What about his friend? He grew up with drugs, and fighting, and I don't know what all.... So yes, he's getting a public education, but his starting point is so different.

This is heartbreaking. Should I feel guilty about what we have? Maybe not, but I do, a little. Do others have less because of bad choices? Yes, probably, but whose choices? When did it start? Was there never an equal footing? So then I begin to wonder if this idea of "equal opportunity" is just another very Western concept, like "privacy," something we kind of think we have a right to, because of the culture we're in. I don't know. It got me asking what God thinks about equality? What does the Bible say about it?

I did a very quick search of the word "equal" on Biblegateway.com (this is a great site, by the way) just to get an idea of how often and in what context the word shows up in the Bible. Here's what I found:
There's lots of instructions, "divide these things equally..."; there's God asking Job and Isaiah, "Is there any equal to Me?...."; there's the Pharisees upset that Jesus would claim to be equal to God. Finally, there's a parable that caught my attention, about workers all getting paid an equal amount for unequal workloads. And Jesus ties that parable up with a bow in Matthew 20:16, saying, "So the last will be first and the first will be last." Hmmm. It's not completely satisfying to me, watching the kid at the bus stop with a not-warm-enough jacket. I mean big, eternal picture, yes, it is satisfying. It's a relief to know that God has this kid, He sees, He knows. But today, in the cold wind, not as much. The cold is temporary, I know, but it's also very real. The pain is real.

The last "equal" on the list is in 2 Corinthians 8, where Paul is writing to the folks in Corinth about taking up a collection for the Lord's people. He is encouraging them to see their commitment through, to give willingly to those who need. Paul says it this way:
Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. As the Scriptures say,
“Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over,
and those who gathered only a little had enough.” (2 Corinthians 8:10-15, NLT)

The Scriptures that Paul is quoting are from Exodus, when God provided manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. Remember that story? No one was able to collect more than they needed, and no one was lacking. There, in the desert, there was real equality, because God provided it. But in the New Testament, and today, there are some with lots, and some with little. And God does provide today, through us. So I will feed these kids when they're here at my house, and I will try to help them know they are valued and loved. And this is where faith comes in, I have to trust that while I do the bit that I can, God is working in the mighty, big-picture, eternal way that I cannot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jesus hears and feels your pains for these children.