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Freedom and Precarity
"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood."
The readings for today illustrate that an essential aspect of the Christian life is precarity. No, I take that back, an essential element of human existence is precarity.
There are two individuals highlighted in the readings. Both of them are in extreme poverty. Both are widows—women with little to no privilege in that society. Both embody the precarity of human life.
Besides for the relentless grace of God, there's nothing more certain in human existence than precarity. I would propose that the opposite of precarity is security.
So much of our political and economic life is ordered to material security, safety, comfort. This isn't bad, but the Christian is called to something different.
Bourgeois Christianity—A Christian life concerned with the suburban home, the annual vacation to Disney World, and the secure retirement. A Christian life focused on security, comfort, privilege, and power—is not authentic Christianity.
I think there are two common temptations when trying to understand Jesus's teachings about money. One is to say that his teaching isn't *really* about money. That wealth isn't *really* a problem. That Jesus is just talking about our internal disposition. I think this reading is simply an appeasement to our bourgeois consumerist culture.
However, as someone who is not wealthy, I'm tempted to understand these teachings in a way that appeases my own conscience. It's easy for me to think that because I'm not wealthy I'm off the hook here. But the reality is that I'm just as afraid of precarity, that I desire safety and comfort, as much as anybody does.
When I'm being honest with myself, precarity terrifies me. Absolutely terrifies me. In my mind I can say that I trust God's goodness and his providence. In my mind I admire and long for a radical life of holiness. In my mind I even admire and desire martyrdom. But in my heart I am so scared of precarity.
I'm scared that my wife or my kids will suddenly get seriously ill or disabled or die. I'm scared of growing old and losing the ability to do the things I love doing. I'm scared of my kids getting into freak accidents. I'm scared of house fires and kidnappings and the whole litany of things that run through a parent's mind when they can't get to sleep at night.
I spend so much time and energy and anxiety trying to avoid precarity, trying to make myself and my family more secure.
Christianity does not offer security from precarity. In this world, there is no real escape from precarity. Look at Jesus. His life was nothing but precarity, from his poverty to his homelessness and all the way to his arrest, torture, crucifixion, and death.
No, God doesn't offer security, but He offers grace. He offers freedom, freedom from the fear of precarity. Freedom to know that God will work all tragedies for a greater good. Freedom from the desire to avoid scarcity. Freedom to serve my neighbor when doing so makes my life more precarious.
Christianity doesn't free us from precarity, it liberates us from being terrified of it.
The women in the reading's today lived with true freedom. Their lives are a model and a promise for all Christians, that with God's grace, we too can live a life free from the relentless terror of precarity.