A former professor of mine once had two student volunteers come up front with their backpacks. The professor asked them both if they thought they could climb a hill while wearing their backpack, to which both responded, yes.
The professor then placed a large rock in the backpack of one of the students, and then asked them the same question. Again, the students replied yes. This continued for awhile, with the professor placing another rock in the same student’s backpack each time. But eventually, the student with the rocks in his backpack had to admit he could no longer lift the backpack, much less carry it up a hill.
Though I don’t remember everything about the discussion that followed that day, what I do remember is that the point of the illustration was that we don’t all have the same starting point in life. On the one hand, this is pretty obvious. We all know people who have been born into a family with more, as well as people who were born into a family with less. Yet in plenty of other ways, this reality that we don’t all have the same starting point in life can get overlooked, forgotten, or even disregarded.
As a nation, we’re fond of stories of those who have pulled themselves “up by their bootstraps,” and those with privilege often attribute where they’ve gotten to in life to their hard work. Certainly, hard work is something to be commended; but we’d be amiss if we thought everyone has access to the same opportunities, networks, and investments that can also make a big difference as well.
That’s why I’m grateful for all the people in our community who work tirelessly and passionately to give a hand up to those who need it. When I see their work, whether it be paid or volunteer, to help someone else have a healthy, productive life, I’m reminded of God’s call to us in Psalm 82: “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy” (vs. 3-4).
This is a call that echoes throughout all of scripture, and there are countless stories in the Bible that remind us that it is in coming alongside the little and the least that one encounters Christ. Whenever we heed this call to work for justice, feed the hungry, and tend the sick, we are not only able to catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom come on earth, we can also trust that we’re a part of what God is up to in the world.
The kingdom of God is made known through the gospel promise that no matter what our station or economic situation in life, God’s love is for all. It is not based on how much we have or how well we do. In a culture that prizes wealth, power, and prestige, this can at times be hard to remember. But it’s good news for all of us.
It’s good news to those who have plenty, because it reminds them that their worth isn’t based on their bottom line. And it’s good news to those who are born into poverty, because it reminds them that God has a future in store for them filled with hope. Though that future is not yet fully realized, when it comes, it will be as it is written in the book of Isaiah: “You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you will burst into song, and all the trees of the field will clap your hands” (55:12).