Not a Needy Person Among Them

Monday, June 11, 2012 — Week of Proper 5, Year Two

Saint Barnabas the Apostle

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer)

EITHER the readings for Monday of Proper 5, p. 971

Psalms 56, 57, [58] (morning) // 64, 65 (evening)

Ecclesiastes 7:1-14

Galatians 4:12-20

Matthew 15:21-28

OR the readings for St. Barnabas, p. 998

Morning: Psalms 15, 67; Ecclesiasticus 31:3-11; Acts 4:32-37

Evening: Psalms 19, 146; Job 29:1-16; Acts 9:26-31

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

[I chose the readings for St. Barnabas]

One who loves gold will not be justified;

one who pursues money will be led astray by it.

Many have come to ruin because of gold,

and their destruction has met them face to face.

It is a stumbling block to those who are avid for it

and every fool will be taken captive by it.

Blessed is the rich person who is found blameless,

and who does not go after gold.

Who is he, that we may praise him?

For he has done wonders among his people.

(Ecclesiasticus 31:5-9)

Today we celebrate the feast of Barnabas the Apostle and companion of Paul, who sold his estate and gave the money to the apostles for distribution. We read in Acts today that the community of the resurrection practiced a form of communal living. “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” (Acts4:32) That’s a passage that’s not commonly quoted among those who commonly quote.

No private property; communal ownership. It seemed to work — “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.” (Acts 4:34) Barnabas is a shining example of that practice. He sold his estate and brought the money to the apostles. We learn later in Acts that there was a dispute alleging prejudice in the distribution, the widows of the Hellenists complained that they did not get as much as the Hebrew widows. So, the apostles appointed deacons to see to the just and equal distribution. Fourth century emperor Julian the Apostate complained that “the impious Galileans support our poor in addition to their own.”

We live in a time when U.S. economic inequality is more extreme than it has been since 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression. Institute for Policy scholar Chuck Collins has recently published a book 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It. He cites evidence that extreme disparities of wealth and power breakdown civic cohesion and social solidarity. Historically when there is great income inequality we tend to offer less support for education, public health care, affordable housing and other programs to level the playing field. Those who can afford to make large contributions to political elections tend to influence public decisions to their own benefit. We’ve seen a thirty year trend favoring the wealthy and powerful, and now we have more money and power concentrated in fewer hands than since right before the Great Depression. Collins believes there is a connection between income inequality and unhealthy economies.

Ben Sirach, the author of Ecclesiasticus, poetically describes some of the effect of these inequalities. “The rich person toils to amass a fortune, and when he rests he fills himself with his dainties. The poor person toils to make a meager living, and if he ever rests he becomes needy.” (31:3-4)

Those of us who toil in the non-profit world know that there are many wealthy persons of conscience like Barnabas, who make significant contributions to the organizations that serve the vulnerable. We are thankful for the charity and generosity that underwrites so many outreach programs.

But how much better served we would be if our whole society had a generous commitment to the common good. Bill Gates, Sr., plainly describes some of the building blocks of a healthy society: “The ladder of opportunity for America’s middle class depends on strong and accessible public educational institutions, libraries, state parks and municipal pools. And for America’s poor, the ladder of opportunity also includes access to affordable health care, quality public transportation, and childcare assistance.” These are things that must be done in the public sector, underwritten by fair, adequate and progressive taxation.

Yesterday our congregation joined many others in participating in Bread for the World’s annual “Offering of Letters” campaign, asking congress to place a circle of protection around the programs that are so crucial to the poor. Bread for the World is a Christian voice for the hungry.

Compassionate care for the poor and vulnerable seems to be a characteristically Christian stance in the world. What would it take in our day to create a society where “there was not a needy person among them”?

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