Friday, December 11, 2015

Poor Man

As I continue to reflect on how we respond to the poor among us (see yesterday's post), I can't help but think about another poor Man: Jesus.

It's not such a stretch around this time of year to think about Jesus as a poor man, or at least as a poor infant. He was, after all, quite famously born in a stable. Fresh out of the womb, He was lain in a feeding trough.

On the eighth day, His parents presented Him at the Temple, the way all good Jewish parents did. But the offering they brought was the poor man's offering - a couple of birds. Had they any more resources, they would have brought an animal with some actual meat on its bones. But no, they brought only birds - which sold two for just a couple of cents. 

Shortly after, we see Jesus and His family take off for refuge in Egypt, where He is raised likely being told not to get too comfortable, not to become too attached. Nothing in Egypt was His, His parents would probably often remind Him. This wasn't really home. This was a borrowed bed in a borrowed shelter in a borrowed country until it was safe to go home. 

In His very early life, the only things of earthly value that Jesus had at all were a little bit of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and the truth is that we don't know whatever became of these gifts. For all we know, they were left behind in the manger (because who has room in a diaper bag for gold, frankincense, and myrrh?). Or maybe they were sold early for the money to make the journey to Egypt, or to buy passage there, or to rent a temporary dwelling. Maybe these extravagant gifts (which I'm going to write a bit more about as we get closer to Christmas), which were essentially useless both for an infant and for a poor family, were quickly transformed into more meaningful provision, then long-forgotten. 

Or maybe Mary tucked them away for Jesus to have "when He gets older." Who knows?

So it's no secret that Jesus was born a poor man. But what we often forget is that He lived as one, too. 

When we see Jesus in the Gospel stories, He's always on foot. Maybe this is a simple preference of His, something He's doing to keep Himself close to the people. But very many around that time would have had at least one camel, right? A lot of people were using animals as transportation, especially across long distances, and especially when they were toting goods. It's far easier for a camel or a donkey to carry the goods from market than to try to tote them all yourself. But Jesus is only ever once spoken of as riding on an animal, and it wasn't even His animal. He sent His disciples to borrow one for Him. He was always talking about a traveling sack, the kind you throw over your own shoulder to go from place to place.

He was often criticized for eating with sinners, and we tend to take these scenes at face value. But there are two underlying truths here about His poverty that cannot be ignored. First, you never once see Jesus eating His own food. He's always eating someone else's food. At Simon's house. In the Upper Room. Even when we see Him at the well, having sent the disciples into town for food, He doesn't even eat what they bring back. On the hillsides, He divides by thousands the lunch pail of a little boy. He's either a cosmic mooch, or He doesn't have many resources. (He does, one time, cook fish for His disciples, but He's standing resurrected on the seashore. He didn't buy that fish; He caught it.) 

Second, you never see anyone eating at Jesus' house. He tells us He doesn't have a house - the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head - but He at least has a family home. His mother and brothers are somewhere; there's a place He could go if He needed a place to go. But we never see Him go there. We never see Him go to any place called home, and so He never entertains, either.

I'm not saying this poverty was forced upon Him, or even that it was necessary. I very much believe His poverty was intentional. But that doesn't make Him any less of a poor man.

And I can't help but wonder what we'd think of such a poor man if He walked among us today. I can't help but shudder to think about how we'd react to Him - dirty feet, traveling bag slung over His shoulder with all the meager possessions He has in all the world. Always eating at someone else's house, always using someone else's resources. No place to call His own, no home to go to at night.

I can't help but wonder what we'd say if we saw Him. Get a job, we might say, snorting derisively. Clean yourself up every once in awhile. Maybe you wouldn't be so poor if you'd stop giving everything you have away. Why don't you find your own food somewhere? Not in my neighborhood; get out of here. 

Or maybe we'd just turn away and spend the rest of our day talking about "that homeless Man" who just "doesn't get it." 

There's something about it when Jesus says, Whenever you have seen someone hungry, and given him food; thirsty, and given him drink; naked, and given him clothes; sick or in prison, and visited him.... because He knew, even when He said, whatever you have have done for me, that in another time, in another place, and indeed, in this very time and place both then and now, it very easily could be Him. 

The poor Man.

Whose life is more abundantly rich that our haughty eyes could ever see. 

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