When Jesus Meets…A Poor Person

Picture this:

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.

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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?

When Jesus Meets…The Untouchable

Large crowds followed Jesus when
He came down from the mountain.
And as Jesus was going along, a leper
approached Him and knelt down before
Him.
Leper: Lord, if You wish to, please heal me
and make me clean!
Jesus (stretching out His hand): Of course I
wish to. Be clean.
Immediately the man was healed.
Matthew 8:1-3, The Voice

 

He touched him.

Jesus touched him.

The person no one would touch. And with good reason. There have been many reasons some have chosen to view others as untouchable. Not too many years ago, white people were taught to not touch black people—or even things they had touched. Today, many still feel touching an immigrant, or someone from a different religion, or a homeless person is too difficult. Just a few months ago, many in the country collectively lost their minds and did not want to touch anybody because 3 people in a nation of over 300 million were suffering with Ebola.

But those are all crappy reasons to not touch someone.

Jesus had a good reason. Leprosy could be contagious. Leprosy made you an outcast. Leprosy was a visible sign that separated you from the rest of the community.

And Jesus touched him.

With all of His power, with all of the ways He could have healed, Jesus touched him.

_________________________

Pope Francis gets this. One of the greatest pictures I have ever seen is Pope Francis kissing a person with leprosy.

boils

 

There is also the image of him washing and kissing the feet of Muslims.

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We have created so many categories of people we won’t touch. Those with certain health issues. Those from different economic classes. Those with different sexual orientations or gender assignments. People from different ethnicities. Those who attend church in different locations; or not at all. People who disagree with us.

We keep adding and adding to the list of untouchables. And we don’t just avoid touching—we avoid any sign of support or encouragement.

Because we fear that to speak up for someone who is untouchable is going to lead our privileged, comfortable friends to lump us into the same categories.

What does this look like? It’s when we stay silent while our friends are insulting others. It’s when we laugh at the joke demeaning another because we don’t want to stand out from the crowd. It’s when we don’t share certain things in our social media feeds because we are afraid of what our family and friends might think. It’s when we look for churches made up of people who look, dress, and worship exactly like we do.

Treating people like they are untouchable does not look like leper colonies being built outside of the city walls.

Treating people like they are untouchable looks like building up barriers in our lives that keep those who are different out and those who we view as comfortable in.

So break down the barriers.

Are there Muslims in your community? Meet them. Talk with them. Invite them into your home and share a meal with them.

Are there homeless people in your community? Pick them up in your car and take them out to eat. Don’t just deliver food and drop it off, but spend time with them. Talk to them. Find out what they need and see if you can partner with them in finding the necessary resources.

Are there churches that are multi-ethnic in your community? If so, visit them. If not, make yours that way. Seek people from different backgrounds and invite them to worship with you.

Are there places in your community that the respectable people dare not go? Then by all means—go there.

Breaking down the barriers and touching the untouchable has to be intentional. It cannot happen by mistake.

Reach out your hand.

Touch the untouchable.

Veteran’s Day: Thank You and Forgive Us

Today is Veteran’s Day.

Thank you to all veterans who have served in any of the military branches. I am related to many who have served. I am friends of many more. I sincerely appreciate the hard work, dedication, devotion, and sacrifice that come with serving in the military.

Thank you.

President Wilson said this on the occasion of the first observance of Veteran’s Day, originally called Armistice Day:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…

Thank you all who have served, are serving, and will serve in the future. This country and its people do appreciate your service.

However, in addition to thanks, we also must say, “Forgive us.”

Forgive us, for we have failed our veterans in worst ways possible.

_________________________

Because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy.

About 12% of the adult homeless population is veterans. That means that on any given night, over 49,000 veterans have no home to sleep in. Mental health issues are prevalent among veterans; especially those who have seen combat. PTSD is probably the most well-known issue, but there is so much more. Add to that, a large number of these mental health issues co-exist with alcoholism and drug addiction. When soldiers go untreated, it becomes difficult to secure a job and find a home.

If we are truly going to be a nation that shows sympathy, we should first start showing sympathy to those we honor for their sacrifice and service.

With peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

We live in a country of peace. We live in a country of justice. If you are lucky enough to be a part of the privileged racial and socio-economic classes.

Look no further than Ferguson, MO. Look no further than the mascot of the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C. Look no further than the defensive reactions of privileged people to both of those statements.

Our veterans fought for freedom. For many in our country today, freedom is a dream that is not yet realized. If we are truly going to be a nation that exhibits peace and justice to the nations, let us first exhibit peace and justice to the members of our own nation.

_________________________

So today we say thank you. Even if we are conscientious objectors or pacifists, we still say thank you to our veterans and their families for the sacrifices they have made.

Yet we also say forgive us. Forgive us for we have turned our backs on our veterans too many times. Forgive us for we have not upheld the freedom for which they fought.

Let us begin today to say thank you by caring for our sick and homeless veterans. Let us begin today to say thank you by advocating for peace and justice for all of our citizens.

After all, that’s what Veteran’s Day is supposed to be about.

 

For additional information, check out the following links:

http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp

http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/

http://www.va.gov/homeless/