Teaching third grade religious education at my church had done more for my spiritual growth and understanding of scripture than I could ever have imagined. Our weekly lessons are focused on the same scriptures that us “grownups” hear at Mass. Sometimes I wonder if we might better evangelize the adults if our pastors gave us the simple lessons I give my students.
Last weekend’s Gospel was packed with several well-known sayings of Jesus, most notably being, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” as well as “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” and “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” Great stuff to launch us into the 40-day purge known as Lent.
I posed a hard question to my third graders at the beginning of class. Better to get the elephant in the room out in the open. “If Jesus promised that God would take care if us and that we would have everything we need, why is it that there are some people who are really poor and have nothing?”
I know, they are only eight and nine years old. That’s a question with which adults grapple, and here I throw it out in rhetorical fashion at unsophisticated little children? What was I thinking?
I was thinking they knew the answer intuitively, without even having to verbalize it. Later in our lesson I handed out hard candy. There was enough for every child to have one piece, and they were various different types – peppermints, butterscotch, cinnamon, those little ones wrapped up to look like strawberries, and even something that looked like a Werther’s. I gave three pieces to one child, two to another, one piece each to a few of the children, and nothing to at least two of them.
“Does everyone have what they need?” I asked. I wasn’t sure how they’d react. Would those who had more hoard theirs? Would those with none make a big fuss?
No on both counts. The ones with none had no time to make a fuss before their neighbors were throwing the extra pieces at them. Those who didn’t like the flavor they’d been given traded with their neighbors until everyone had what they needed.
Some people might say these children have been brainwashed by a progressive public school system that teaches redistribution of wealth and radical social justice. But I think they just intuitively “get” being Christian. And they clearly have good parental examples in their homes.
There were no discussions of fairness. No discussions of the morality of a teacher who would give two or three pieces to some children and none to other children. They saw that there was enough to go around and they equalized themselves. It was heartwarming.
The candy wasn’t earned. It was a gift. Perhaps if the candy had been an award for performance, my budding little Christians would have felt differently about sharing. I may have to do some more candy experiments to see if they really are just that kind to each other, especially if I create scarcity.
But in the Kingdom of God, there is no scarcity.
In the Kingdom of God, the commodity isn’t candy. Nor is it food, clothing, shelter, or gasoline for the minivan. In the Kingdom of God, the commodity is love, and there is more than enough for everyone, in the flavor we most desire.
After our little candy exercise, I reminded the kids of my earlier question, and I told them that we are God’s hands and feet. It’s up to us to show God’s love and care. It really is that simple. If God gives me more than I need, it’s because He wants me to give the excess to someone who does not have what they need.
God has blessed me with the opportunity to be like Him – a gift-giver who gives unconditionally, with no strings attached. We humans have been wanting to be like God ever since Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden. How like God to give us exactly what we want, and we don’t even see it!
We are now in Lent. The 40 day purge. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For Lent, I’m fasting from fast food, I’m praying for God to reveal to me the harms I’ve done to other people so that I can make amends, and I’m looking at the material excess in my home and giving it away so that people can trust God’s divine providence.