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…A Grieving Parent

I started the When Jesus Meets series at the beginning of this year to highlight some examples from the Gospel accounts of how Jesus responded when He met different groups of people. I struggled with this post and almost did not share it, because I am unqualified to speak about this topic. There is some pain that will never go away. And I think Jesus’ responses to people teach us that that is okay.

Losing a child is unnatural. It is not supposed to happen. It causes pain; too much pain. We don’t even have a word for the parent who has lost a child. There is no “widow” or “orphan” or anything.

I have been to too many funerals with people who have lost children. I have too many friends who have suffered the pain of miscarriage.

I hate the pain the death of child causes.

I like to use words a lot. But too often I have been rendered speechless by witnessing the pain of a parent who is grieving the loss of their child.

And I still don’t have many words. In fact, I really only have four: Jesus hates it, too.

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There are two instances when Jesus meets a family whose child has died. Jairus approaches Jesus as his daughter was at home dying; while Jesus is on the way to Jairus’ house, the daughter dies. As Jesus traveled through the town called Nain, He noticed a funeral procession of a widow’s son.

Both times, He raises the child back to life.

The stories that are selected for the Gospel were chosen for a reason. There is a reason why we read the stories we do and are left to wonder about the other things Jesus said and did.

And in the case of Jairus: Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us his story. It was important enough for 3 of the 4 Gospel writers to tell their audience about that story. (And John is just weird.)

In these stories, we see the compassion of Jesus. We see Jesus respond to the pain and agony that only a parent can feel when their child has died. It hurts. It is wrong. It is not fair. It shouldn’t happen.

So Jesus steps in and changes it.

We see Jesus react to many things that are not “normal.” Jesus heals blind people. He heals lame people. He cures leprosy. He makes mute people speak again. When Jesus sees their pain, He responds.

But there is a difference: every single parent who has lost a child would gladly give up their sight if they could have their child back. Every single parent would gladly never walk again if it meant having another conversation with their child. Every single parent would even gladly (GLADLY) take on the sores, pain, and isolation of leprosy if it meant their child would live again.

Every. Single. One.

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Jesus was one of those children, too. His mother, Mary, was present at His crucifixion. She saw Him beaten, mocked, spat upon, and killed. She watched as her son died one of the most brutal deaths imaginable.

When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to Simeon in the temple, the old man told Mary a sword would pierce her soul.

Do you think Mary felt as if she was stabbed on the day her son died?

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So what does this mean for families today?

Unfortunately, not a whole lot. Like a friend of mine, whose son died very young, posted one Christmas morning: “The cradle is still empty. I know. I checked.”

That pain is not going to go away. That parent will always count the missing child among his children—as he should.

Jesus isn’t around to perform the miracle of resurrection. So what kind of hope do those miracle stories provide? What can I offer besides platitudes?

When Jesus meets a parent who has lost a child, Jesus does what He can to ease the pain. In the case of Jairus and the widow of Nain, that meant raising their child back to life.

But I think what following the way of Jesus today means is presence.

I remember standing on the porch of my parent’s house with my father the day of my brother’s funeral. My dad pointed out to me that people came to the funeral because they loved us. Friends from my high school years were present. People flew from Texas to Maryland to attend the funeral. Calls, emails, cards came in from all over the country. My church family in Abilene stood with hands raised in prayer the night before the funeral, even though I was not physically present with them.

I have attended too many funerals of children since we have moved to Abilene. Here is what I have seen at those funerals: people surrounding the parents with love and encouragement. Crowds of people coming together to honor the memory of a life well-lived, but definitely not lived long enough.

I hear people talk with grieving parents weeks, months, and years after their child has passed away. The parents are reminded that their children are not forgotten; that their pain and grief is not forgotten.

The cradle is still empty. The pain is still there. The parents would still trade anything for one more day with their child.

But the presence of God and a community of faith reminds us that we do not grieve alone.

Your pain is what it should be. The fact that you will never recover fully is fine, because I don’t think God expects you to.

When Jesus meets a grieving parent, He doesn’t take the pain away. He grieves with you.

When Jesus Meets…The Poor

People on food stamps should be drug tested.

If people worked harder we wouldn’t need welfare.

If people really needed IDs they could get them easily.

I work hard for my own stuff, why can’t they work hard for theirs?

If people didn’t make bad decisions, they wouldn’t be poor.

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I wish these were statements I was making up. Unfortunately, I have heard all of them. And I don’t just mean I have seen them posted by often unnamed social media users. I have heard people say these things out loud.

Now, there are going to be times when good people, well-intentioned people, disagree on issues. But I am not addressing that disagreement with this post. I want to address our attitudes towards poor people.

Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you,” and we have taken that and run with it. Since the poor will always be here, why should we worry about them? Since we will always have the poor, why should we think we could actually do something to stop it?

One thing has troubled me for years:

Jesus did not say that in the context of a capitalist economy. Jesus was not saying, “It is inefficient to work on the poor so find other areas to spend your money that provide a better return on investment.” Jesus was not saying, “It is hopeless.”

Jesus was saying at a specific event at a specific time that having His body prepared for burial was a precious gift that should not be mocked.

In John 12:1-8, Jesus is anointed with some expensive oil. Judas asks why the money was not spent on the poor.

But John is quick to point out that Judas was not asking because of his concern for the poor; Judas was asking because he wanted to keep the money for himself.

And Jesus did not say, “The poor will always be with you,” and leave it at that. He also added, “But I am about to leave.”  Jesus knew His death was imminent and the anointing that He received prepared Him for His death, burial and resurrection.

Unfortunately, too many of us have taken the first part of Jesus’ statement (The poor will always be with you) to excuse some pretty bad attitudes and behaviors towards poor people. If we can view the poor as “other,” as “them,” as moral failures, then we can justify in our own minds not doing more to help. We can rail against higher taxes and more government offices. We can call for stricter rules and regulations without considering the impact on those below middle class. We can scoff at increased minimum wages and protect the executives’ bottom line thinking they will share their wealth.

But I have to ask: how should we be treating the poor? Not from a political policy perspective, but from the viewpoint of people who claim the name of Jesus as our identity, how should we treat the poor?

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She was poor.

She was an outcast.

Her medical condition caused her to lose her livelihood and her well-being, but all people noticed was that she was not clean.

Since she was not clean it was okay that they disregarded her.

Since she was not clean it was okay if no one helped her.

Since she was not clean it was okay if she was not included in the crowd.

Since she was not clean it was okay if no one noticed her.

Since so many other people treated her as if she was garbage it made sense that she would think He would do so, as well.

Since religious leaders and social elites would not welcome her it made sense she did not feel welcome when approaching Him.

Since she was not clean it made sense that she tried to touch His cloak without Him noticing. After all, everyone else despised her. Why should she think He would be any different?

But He was different. She grabbed the corner of His cloak believing that would be sufficient. She wanted to stay hidden.

But He noticed. And He called out to find out who touched His cloak. Even when His followers scoffed at the idea He could notice one person’s touch among the multitudes He continued asking who touched His cloak.

So she came forward. Afraid. Nervous. Scared about what might happen now.

And Jesus called her “daughter.”

He did not see the unclean. He did not regard her as an outcast. He did not look past her because she did not have what the other person He was helping had. He saw her. And He called her daughter.

Because when Jesus meets the poor, He sees daughters and sons of God.

May we all.

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.

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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.

When Jesus Meets…

I am adding a series to my blog this year. I will continue book reviews (even though I missed one for January) and 12 Step posts (my most recent one is here). I will also have one challenge per month to help create community and I will continue my once a month highlight/lowlight.

I will also be adding a series called When Jesus Meets….

Jesus met a lot of people during his short ministry. Those interactions teach us a lot about how we should interact with people today. I hope this series will be encouraging and inspiring, and as always I hope it will generate discussion.

As we think about the different types of people we come across each day, we must think about how we treat them, how we welcome them, how love them.

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I recently taught a two class series on why I still believe. There are many reasons not to believe: sickness and death; natural disasters; racist, close-minded words and attitudes; religious intolerance; poverty worldwide. I have had friends ask me how I can still believe when all of these things exist.

And to be honest, I have had to ask myself the same question: why do I still believe? Some mornings, I question my faith. We live in a Christian culture that often does not welcome disbelief and questioning. So I don’t always know what to do with my questions.

But I have learned to be okay with asking them. I have trusted friends and spiritual advisers I can go to with my questions. Reading the Psalms reminds me that I can express and all emotions in prayer and worship to God. Listening to the lives of friends and family members who have experienced intense moments of doubt have set the example for me: it is possible to question and still maintain faith.

And there is an encounter with Jesus that expresses this.

In John 11, Jesus is informed his friend, Lazarus, is sick. Jesus waits before going to the village where Lazarus was. Jesus knew something miraculous was going to happen. He waited so that it would have been four days after Lazarus died before he arrived. Four days was significant for the Jews, so Jesus made sure He waited that long. The wait would make the miracle even more magnificent.

But when Jesus arrived, the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, come to Him and express their sorrow. Martha says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary came with all of the mourners behind her.

And the story says that when He saw the sorrow of all those present, Jesus wept.

Wait, what? Jesus? The guy who knew that Lazarus was about to be raised from the dead? The guy who knew what was going on? The guy who had all this power and authority? Yes. That guy.

Jesus wept.

And that is why I still believe. Because no matter what I am facing, no matter what pain I am experiencing, no matter what question I am asking Jesus weeps with me. The one person who had it all together (or at the least came the closest to having it all together as anyone) wept. Jesus cared so much about Martha and Mary that He cried with them. He did not pacify them or mollify them or disregard their emotion or tell them, “It will be okay.”

He didn’t do any of that.

He wept.

When Jesus meets those who are in the midst of grief and sorrow, He weeps.

Sometimes, words are not necessary. Sometimes, actions are not needed.

Sometimes, we need to weep with others.

Just like Jesus did.