Jesus is nearing the city of Jericho. A blind man is sitting there, begging by the roadside. He can hear the sounds of the crowd accompanying Jesus, and he asks what’s going on.
Crowd: Jesus of Nazareth is passing this way.
Then the man starts shouting. Blind Man: Jesus, Son of King David, show mercy to me!
The people in the front of the crowd reprimand him and tell him to be quiet, but he just shouts louder.
Blind Man: Son of King David, show mercy to me!
Jesus stops and tells the people to bring the man over to Him. The man stands in front of Jesus.
Jesus: What do you want Me to do for you?
Blind Man: Lord, let me receive my sight.
Jesus: Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.
At that very instant, the man is able to see. He begins following Jesus, shouting praises to God; and everyone in the crowd, when they see what has happened, starts praising God too.
Generally speaking, as a country we don’t like poor people. That’s why we talk about “the bad parts of town” or “the other side of the tracks.” That’s why we support unchecked capitalism–we are okay with rich corporations increasing profits while the minimum wage is worth about 2/3 of what it was 30 years ago. When we say things like “better schools” and “better neighborhoods” we are talking in code so that we don’t have to say out loud, “We don’t want to be around poor people.”
And I know that is harsh. It is a broad over-generalization. But I think anyone would be hard-pressed to show that it is not true. Much of our lives is spent insulating ourselves from people who are in a lower socio-economic class than we are.
That is a problem than needs to be addressed. Especially for people who claim to be Jesus followers.
When Jesus meets a poor person, pay attention to what He does (The story above is found in Luke 18:35-43).
First, He notices them.
We spend a lot of our time trying to NOT notice poor people. We pass laws that make it illegal for homeless people to ask for money or sit on a park bench or walk into a library. We participate in a phenomenon called “White Flight” where middle class people, especially middle class white people, flee urban areas and live in the suburbs. Some cities put people on buses and send them to the other end of their state during fair season so that they won’t bother the good people coming to the state fair. In many urban areas, before renewal hits, developers spend a lot of money buying up property and running people out so that the “right kind” of tenant can move in without being bothered by urban plight.
(Do you realize that what a lot of us call “plight” is what a large number of people call “home”?)
The crowd in this story tried to shush the poor beggar. They told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus.
But Jesus heard. Jesus noticed. Jesus paid attention. And He stopped walking. When Jesus notices someone, He stops to talk with them. He doesn’t walk away and pretend like He can’t hear or see.
Second, Jesus overrides the will of the crowd who is telling the person to be quiet by telling them to bring the poor person to Him.
Jesus just doesn’t walk up to the blind beggar. Instead, Jesus tells the people who have been trying to shut the beggar up to go get him and bring him to Jesus. Jesus is in effect saying, “Go to the person that you are disregarding, go to that person that you are dehumanizing, and bring him to me.”
Jesus makes the shushers become ushers. (That is quite possibly the cheesiest sentence I have ever written.)
The crowd did not want Jesus to be bothered. The crowd thought they knew who Jesus should talk to. The crowd wanted to be in control. And Jesus tells them to go to the people they ignore. Not only does Jesus notice poor people, He forces us to notice them, as well.
Third, He asks what He can do.
In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert talk about the difference in relief, rehabilitation, and development. While the most effective aid to those in poverty comes in the form of development, the overwhelming majority of aid currently is in the form of relief.
I do not want to discourage anyone from participating in relief efforts. But I do want to suggest two things: first, look for ways to be involved with development (and reading Corbett and Fikkert’s book is a good place to start to find out how).
Second, realize that too often, relief takes the form of the person with resources stepping in and telling the poor person, “Here is what you need to do; here is how I am going to help you.” The problem with that sentiment is that we never know if what we are doing is actually needed or not.
Jesus asks the blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” He doesn’t assume the person wants sight. He doesn’t provide food or money. He asks what the person needs.
When Jesus meets a poor person, He treats the poor person with same dignity, respect, and humanity He would offer anyone else.
Fourth, He does what He can without qualification.
Many states are trying to add (or have added) drug testing as a requirement to receive government aid. Although multiple studies have shown this type of drug testing to be a waste of money because such a small number of people fail the drug tests, people insist on continuing to use them.
Why? Because we want to put requirements on people getting help. We want to tell people how they should live and act if they should find themselves in a situation where they need assistance.
We want people to earn our charity.
But Jesus doesn’t. Jesus says, “I will help and I won’t ask you to jump through any hoops to get it.”
What will it take for us to notice the poor people around us in the way that Jesus notices them?