St. Augustine: The Bellies Of The Poor Are Safer Storehouses Than Our Barns
by Harvey Yoder
Pastor of Family of Hope and coordinator for SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) benefitting Mennonite Central Committee
In light of an ever more desperate refugee crisis, what does it mean to love God with everything we have and to love our world neighbors as we love and serve ourselves?
Each year multiple donors make contributions for refugee relief at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale’s “Sharing Our Surplus” (SOS) Giving Table. In 2021 that effort raised a gratifying $48,000, around 12% of the total raised for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) at the annual event. The total SOS funds raised through cash, check and credit card giving since 2017 has exceeded $150,000. Could we double up on that kind of giving?
Our love for God and others is most accurately reflected in our actual giving and spending. Whether it’s $5 for a donut and coffee, $5000 for a luxury cruise or $500,000 for a new house for our retirement, we are in each case indicating exactly how much we value those purchases. In other words, exactly how much we “love” those things.
None of this spending is necessarily wrong if we are equally committed to having our worldwide neighbors enjoy the same blessings. Isn’t that what “as ourselves” means?
A rich man in one of Jesus’s parables decided the best use of his assets was to upgrade his holdings by replacing his existing barns with new ones. He then said to himself, “You have plenty of wealth laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and enjoy yourself.”
St. Augustine, reflecting on this story, wrote, “This silly fool of a man… was hoarding perishable crops. I repeat, he was hoarding perishable crops, while he was on the point of perishing… How will he know where to look, when at that trial he starts hearing the words “I was hungry and you did not give me to eat” (Matthew 25:42)? He was planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding all those empty bellies of the poor. He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns. What he was stowing away in those barns was perhaps even then being stolen away by thieves. But if he stowed it away in the bellies of the poor, it would of course be digested on earth, but in heaven it would be kept all the more safely. ‘The redemption of a man’s soul is his riches.’ ”
Jesus himself gave this wise financial advice: “Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bank robbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” – the Message, Luke 12:33-34
Note: Investing in the eternally secure “Treasury of Heaven” through Mennonite Central Committee can be done now at https://donate.mcc.org/ or MCC, 21 South 12th St., Box 500, Akron, PA 17501-0500.