Stan Lee, the creator of the widely adored Marvel Comics franchise, embedded some profound, almost biblical, wisdom in his Spiderman comic strips. First appearing in one of the closing narrations of his comic strips in 1962, the dictum “With great power comes great responsibility,” has become ubiquitous throughout our culture, appearing in films, books, television shows, and more. In fact, this phrase that originated in the Spider-verse has even been used in settings as prominent as the United States Supreme Court. The basic notion behind this phrase is clear: if you have been blessed by fate or God or the universe with a position of power or influence, then you must not use that power only for your own benefit. In fact, you have a moral obligation to use it for those who have little or no power at all. We find this idea articulated many centuries earlier in the wisdom of King Lemule as found in Proverbs 31:8-9:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
And, again, this seems to be the point of Jesus’ parable found in the twelfth chapter of Luke, in which Jesus describes a wise and faithful manager who properly oversees the master’s property until his return. Jesus concludes, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12: 48b).
As Americans, we once taught our children a similar concept: the idea of civic duty, or the notion that you must not only try to advance your own welfare and happiness, but also advance the welfare and happiness of others, especially those who are left behind or marginalized by the system. Tragically, I find that a sense of civic duty or obligation to the common good has dissipated and weakened in recent years and decades as more and more young people describe the objective of their life as “looking out for #1.” Hence we live in a land in which a few dwell within obscenely large houses with more rooms than could ever possibly be used, while recent migrants are forced to endure a Chicago winter in tents, or sprawled out on the floors inside of police stations.
Let’s be blunt: too many of us have completely failed at using our own privilege for the sake of “those who cannot speak for themselves.” We justify it in many ways: “I have to look out for my own children first,” “What can just one family do anyway in the face of all the need?” “But I’ve worked hard for my money, house, and car.” Like Homer Simpson in his sacrilegious prayer before a family meal, we think, “Well, God, I worked hard to make the money to buy this food we’re about to eat so… thanks for nothing!” Indeed, whole ideologies have been created to convince ourselves that we are not our brother’s keeper and that we have every right to live as lavishly, as decadently, and as selfishly as we can possibly afford.
But with great power – say it with me – comes great responsibility. If you live in Geneva, chances are that this fact alone indicates the level of privilege and power you enjoy. In our culture money is power, and if you can afford to live in one of Chicagoland’s more exclusive suburbs, then you (“we” since I live here too now) have power. And so we must ask: How can we use the resources that God has entrusted to our care for the purpose of advancing the cause of the poor and needy? Such a question might be a rather uncomfortable one for us to reflect upon, but Pastor Rob and I wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t force us to ask it.
Of course, many of us are doing what we can, and this must be celebrated. Our church is involved with Lazarus House in St. Charles, Hesed House just 25 minutes to our south, The Neighbor Project which seeks to break the cycle of poverty through home ownership, by sending yearly teams to Appalachia to serve impoverished families, and the list could go on. I am proud to belong to such a church. But may we keep pressing forward, keep giving generously, and keep committing ourselves to resisting the comfort of our own bubbles of safety. The need is great in our world today; may we be found faithful when we stand before our Lord. May our faith motivate us to act and to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”