Tuition at Syracuse University is $38,000 a year. Student rent at the luxury apartments next door to the church is $1000 per month, per bed. SU is the #10 party school in the nation – the highest ranked of any private college.
I am charged with Ministering To these people. And I wasn’t offended when they didn’t come to my fun events or my service events or my food pantry. They are busy, I thought. I concentrated on other things.
But surely, thought I, surely the students will be glad for an easy opportunity to give to our food drive. Everyone likes food drives, the chance to do some low-cost, low-effort good. You dump an extra can of corn in your cart and it goes straight to a needy person. And I will be glad for the food they give, thought I. The building manager and I, we figured the 300 apartment-dwellers could cover the food for two families of ten; we distributed the lists of Thanksgiving foods the families would need, weeks ahead of time. Collection boxes were placed in hallways. E-mails were sent.
Four items were donated.
The building manager bought the rest of the food herself. When she told me this, I think it was the second time in my life my jaw has actually involuntarily dropped.
Maybe it’s just the surprise of it, maybe that’s why I find myself feeling so confused and angry about this. But I feel somehow that I am right to be angry about this, even as I realize there is nothing productive about my anger. But, really – other student groups brought us hundreds of pounds of food, collected in classroom buildings and at Thanksgiving parties. And the luxury apartment tenants couldn’t be bothered to step out their door in their PJ’s to dump a can of gravy in a box?
Never have I wanted more deeply to see the rich sent away empty.
In the past, I found this phrase (from Mary’s song of praise) jarring and harsh. What did God have against the rich? I know a lot of rich people, and they are not bad people. And I know a lot of poor people; they are not particularly virtuous. Why can’t it be, “He fills the hungry with good things, and then he fills the rich with good things”?
When I read this phrase a few weeks ago, though, I was struck – I felt the words before I comprehended them, and what I felt was this irrepressible, grateful, wild joy. “He sends the rich away empty”; it called to mind this image that keeps repeating itself to me, of making room for something better. I remembered losing everything, or feeling like I had, and how God was there; and how since then I’ve been absurdly blessed just like Job, and I have been given the extravagant gift of knowing in the ground of my being that God has not forgotten me. I saw a throne with a pile of gold and gourmet food and diet pills and football tickets and gadgets at its feet; I saw a beggar pull a coat from the pile, and in the distance a person skipping away, for the first time empty, unburdened.
And then I read the phrase again and I thought of the no-good apartment people, and here is where my anger drains away: the secret is, the rich are already empty. These kids have their parties, their own bedrooms, their designer labels, their drugs, their good-looking boyfriends and girlfriends – and I can’t tell whether they know it, probably not, but they’re empty. Chasing after the wind.
So I’d hope the students would recognize their own needs in it; but even if it only made them understand what it’s like to want for a can of corn – I hope they somehow find their stomachs empty. That the hungry might be filled with good things.