“The rich person and the poor person meet: the Lord is Maker of both.” Proverbs 22:2
I have special affection for this proverb. After studying it, you may, too.
On one level, it teaches an important Biblical lesson. The rich and the poor have it in common that God is the Maker and Parent of both. As a result, God has an interest in the welfare of both and has the expectation that each will have such an interest in the other.
But the proverb asks us to go deeper. For one thing, the inquiring mind asks: where do rich and poor persons meet, and what happens when they do?
They could meet in church, synagogue, or mosque. They could meet at a family gathering or at a town hall convening. They could meet when the poor person asks the rich person for help, or when the rich person seeks to hire the poor person.
The rich person could become poor; the poor person could become rich. And the two then meet in opposite roles. The rich person could become dispossessed in another country and be without resources and support, thus meeting “the poor,” through imposed poverty. The materially poor person could feel rich through the experience of productive work and contentment.
The two could meet in a conflict, involving clashing interests, perhaps in a political or legal dispute. Or the two could meet in accord, when they join together in a common cause. We certainly saw this when the nation faced depression, when we went to war against Hitler, when we were attacked on 9/11, and when we have faced the consequences of natural disasters.
So, rich and poor meet in these and other ways. What’s important in their meeting? And what’s the importance of the connective tissue in God’s making them both?
First, once we see that God has made us all, we more easily understand that God cares for us all. If God makes us all, cares for us all, and loves us all, it then follows that God would expect us to respect and love others as we love ourselves. Truly, then, if the rich and poor, at the extremes of the social order, can love each other, it must be that much easier for us in the in-between.
Second, this teaching causes us to see that what might appear as significant differences are mostly insignificant. The significance is in our sharing a place with God, not in our differences in wealth.
To the extent there are differences in material condition, the rich are taught that they could easily be walking in the others’ shoes and that they should make special efforts to provide for the poor. This certainly is of greater value to the God that made them both than the rich exploiting the poor or making “another million.”
The poor are taught that mutuality of interest and caring, rather than envy and anger, is expected of them, too – for their own sake, for the sake of others, and for the sake of shared community.
At its most basic, the proverb teaches how important it is that the rich and poor, indeed all of us, simply meet. If we don’t meet, we can ignore; we can write off; we can hold others in distrust or hate. We can even try to ignore the fact that God made us all.
So, from God’s perspective, through meeting, humankind can knit itself together, each with the other, and with God. Then, in that felicitous environment, achieving the aim of Proverbs – to know and live together in righteousness, justice, and equity – becomes possible.