Once upon a time, in my more idealistic days, I decided to befriend Lil B., notorious drunk and part-time AA member. The friendlier we got, the more she asked me for.
When I took her to the doctor and sat in the waiting room until she was ready to go home, I reminded myself that I was to be a servant.
When I prayed through the night for her daughter who was in critical condition with a drug overdose, I rejoiced with Lil when the tide turned and her child's life was spared. I thought we would be friends forever after that.
When Lil asked to borrow my brand-new upperclass vacuum cleaner (which I loved dearly), I reminded myself of the saying recorded by Luke: "Lend without hope of return." The vacuum eventually came back with a permanently damaged motor. The dust bag had broken, and Lil blamed me for inconveniencing her with a substandard vacuum cleaner. (I eventually invested in a new motor, but the machine was never the same.)
Lil's self-serving attitude gave me the backbone I needed. When she phoned the next time, she wanted me to transport a TV set to her cousin's place. "Lil," I said kindly, "I have decided not to do any more things for you. I want to be your friend, but I get the impression that you don't want that -- you are just interested in what I can do for you."
"Well," huffed Lil, "IF THAT'S THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT IT--" She slammed down the receiver and I never heard from her again.
Afterwards, I thought ruefully. "Jesus was lucky. He didn't have a car, or a TV set, or a vacuum cleaner." That's when the penny dropped. The admonition to divest ourselves of property is not a command – it’s a call.
Perhaps the call to material poverty is selective, like the call to celibacy. Jesus didn't seem to mind dropping in at his affluent friends' places for free meals. He never told Mary & Martha & Lazarus to sell their house and go on the road with him.
Like all calls, the call to poverty is an invitation to a fuller life. We serve best out of our poverty -- material, emotional, spiritual, sometimes even when our bodies are being eaten away by painful disease. Only a few choose to follow that call. Their lives may become easier or more difficult as a result. That doesn’t matter. What matters is the choice they have made and why they made it.
I don’t have to hang onto my achievements any more than I have to hang onto my property. I don’t have to hang onto my deeds of mercy and service either. I am free to do what I want. That is enough, if I am willing to admit it and embrace it.