This is the story of St. Lawrence the Deacon, adapted from Wikipedia:
In 258, the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. Lawrence asked for three days to gather together the wealth. Lawrence worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property to the poor as possible, so as to prevent its being seized by the prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, Lawrence presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said that these were the true treasures of the Church. Lawrence declared, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” For this Lawrence was martyred.
Once again, here is a story that took me a long, long time to understand. How can the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering be the true treasures of the church?
Here’s what I think it means: As I recently heard someone say at a conference on homelessness, the condition of the poor and the marginalized tells us most plainly what the moral condition of society is. Indeed, that is the message of the prophets throughout the Old Testament, and that is what Jesus explained to us in Matthew 25:40. What we do for the “least” of our borthers and sisters, we do for God. If you and I, as reasonably financially comfortable persons, want an objective view on whether we are living in right relationship with God and God’s creation, all we need to is look at how well our society is taking care of its “poor, crippled, lame and suffering”.
The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann was in Seattle recently, and he said it in a similar way: The perpetrators of violence want to forget what they have done. Perpetrators of injustice need the victims to remind them of their wrongdoing.
The poor, crippled, lame, and blind among us are beloved children of God in their own right. They do not merely exist so that I may get a chance to get things right. As beloved sons and daughters of God, they and I – we all – deserve love and support because we are created with and for love by God. Nonetheless, one of the ways the poor are the true treasures of the church is that they help us to see ourselves as God sees us, examining how well we are doing at loving God, ourselves, and our neighbor.
Queries for prayerful consideration:
What is this treasure that the poor have given to me?