Oh, look! It’s a suffering series.

For the past couple of weeks (see here and here), I have focused on the body of Christ, his suffering and our own. Because when it comes to those experiencing poverty, the church in North America’s body language is sending mixed signals.

During a recent trip to St. Louis to make a presentation on The Raceless Gospel Initiative at Kirkwood Baptist Church, I, along with Mitch and Missy Randall, visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

I wasn’t sure of what to expect, but walking on the marble floors made me want to take a step back. I immediately felt uncomfortable and out of place. The lavish display of wealth housed in a sacred space was somewhat overwhelming.

With a bare minimum wage that leaves most Americans surviving but not thriving, unable to put away savings or consider plans for retiring, the investment in a building just doesn’t make sense — not in 1905 when the basilica was constructed or now.

Why does God need such a big house? Why does God always need a new house?

Is this what God asked for? We couldn’t find a cheaper place for God to dwell among us? I know that in the Hebrew Bible God is very specific, but what about now? Jesus has lived here, and he couldn’t find anything within his price range.

A box in a cathedral that says, "Help the poor" on it.

(Photo: Starlette Thomas)

In between the grand columns, there was a collection box for the poor. It was the only thing out of place. The ragged- and rugged-looking structure just didn’t fit in with all the shiny and polished furnishings.

At a loss for words, I looked up at the ceiling. I couldn’t help but wonder, “How is it that God has so many houses of worship and yet we cannot afford to build any for those experiencing poverty and homelessness?”

Many Americans are just one paycheck away from a cardboard box or a shelter if there is space. They can’t afford to pay rent, and this is how money given out of love for God is spent?

To be fair and to be sure, I am asking this question of every church in North America. With one on every corner, the extras could be used to house and support those experiencing homelessness.

Because I thought Christians were supposed to share all things in common so that no one would need a thing (Acts 4:32-35). Maybe that was just for the early church and for church members only?

Except Jesus had other plans if you consider the section on the least of these in Matthew 25. Also, Jesus had no place to rest his head after a long day of preaching and teaching (Matthew 8:20).

As an aside, can we talk about how little we pay and support teachers? I’ll stop meddling and go back to writing, only to ask, “What were Jesus’ priorities?”

He died with nothing in his pockets. And who knows what Judas was doing with the money? It was the least of Jesus’ concerns, and it was solely Judas’ business.

Why is it then that when we identify with Christ, too often we identify him as a rich, successful businessmen with a security detail? Is it because we have Americanized him and upgraded his gospel to first class? Is this the only way that we can justify following him?

A statue of Jesus being held by a woman.

(Photo: Starlette Thomas)

Because we are not following him to the poor house. No, we “follow the money.” So, we reimagine Jesus as an enterprising elitist. Discipleship is but another deal we make along the way to our gated communities.

Are we really following him around or going in capitalistic circles to ensure that the money is not circulated? God forbid.

May we, Christians, confess how we have participated in keeping our neighbors down and out. If not, then what is this Lenten season all about?

While we acknowledge the suffering body of Christ, we must also get in touch with the ways his members have perpetuated it, crucifying him all over again for the sake of plush and shiny stuff that makes us feel good.

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