Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Poor Among Us

For some reason, my Facebook feed this morning is full of heartbreaking reactions to poverty in our world.

There's the story about a local methadone clinic that wants to move locations, taking up residence in an empty part of a tucked-away strip mall on the opposite side of town. And the residents of the area are venomously against this idea. Don't bring these people into my neighborhood, they say. We don't need a drug problem here. Why can't these people go somewhere else? Someone wrote in to say, There's already a food stamp place right there. What do they need - one stop shopping? And of course, there were others who said, Far too close to home. Forgetting, of course, how blessed they are to have a home at all. (And forgetting, too, that no matter where you put such a clinic, it's very near home for someone.

There are comments starting to crop up on one of the garage sale groups I frequent, people criticizing others for both asking for help this Christmas and making purchases off the group. If you're going to have to ask for help, maybe you should not spend every dime that you have so you can buy your own Christmas. One person noted that a specific person was asking for help on one site and selling items on another, then drew the conclusion (with no evidence) that this person must obviously be selling all the things others give to her out of charity. Another person had to audacity to suggest that if you know money is a struggle, maybe budget and plan ahead and save your tax refund to go toward Christmas instead of blowing it in April when you get it. Forgetting, of course, that sometimes someone needs to buy something in April, too. 

And there's this actually pretty neat story about a homeless man who recently won the lottery. All his friends say it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. His community is rejoicing for him. My community, on the other hand, is asking how a homeless man gets a lottery ticket in the first place, as if every dime that he ever stumbles upon is supposed to go only toward his necessities. As if he's supposed to fully embrace his poverty, give up all luxuries until he gets himself back on his feet, and stop being the same kind of human that the rest of us are. We can buy lottery tickets, we argue; we have an "extra" dollar or two. He, the homeless man, doesn't have that same right.

As I was reading through these things this morning (and full disclosure: it's partly my fault. Comment sections on social media are notoriously vicious and heartbreaking), I...can't fathom how we got this way. I have to say that I don't really know how to respond to a world like this. The first group are the Pharisees praying in the temple, thanking God that they aren't like these drug addicts, standing at a distance to keep the dirtiness from rubbing off on them. Here they stand in this blessed place, and they look derisively on someone else who has dared to search for somewhere blessed himself. As if this temple was made just for them.

But it is the addicts whose prayer is found pleasing to God. It is those willing to step into a methadone clinic and say, My life is a mess. Help me, who are truly in the most blessed place. And God Himself will hear them, even if the rest of you are trying hard not to. God Himself will answer them, while you turn away.

The second group are Judas, a bunch of self-appointed actuaries and accountants, thinking it's their responsibility to keep the books for everyone. They look at the way others manage their resources, and they, of course, have a better way of doing it. A poor woman walks into a crowded home, kneels at the feet of Jesus, and breaks open an alabaster jar that contains more than mere perfume; it's all the wealth she has in the world. And Judas stands there scoffing. What is a poor woman doing with such a valuable gift? She ought to have sold it, he says. She ought to have maximized its potential, exploited its worth, invested its profits. Now, he says, she's poorer still, since she has not used her one tiny measure of wealth wisely.

But it is this poor woman who has just anointed the Lord. Her offering is not just a sacrifice; it is a beautiful gift. She has done what no one else has done, Jesus says. She has given this most incredible thing, and there was no better use of her one precious resource. Yes, she's still poor. Yes, she will still struggle. Yes, she may even require assistance down the road. But blessed is she indeed, for in this moment, she's done the wise and wonderful thing, even though it seems foolish to the man with the books.

The third group are the self-righteous. They are the ones who are interested only in keeping everyone in his place, in making sure that everyone pays the full consequence for where their life is right now. They are the ones dragging the woman out of the adulterer's bed and into the public square, right into the presence of the Teacher and demanding that she be held accountable, demanding that she pay the full penalty for her act (and it must be said, ignoring the man who is just as guilty as she is). They are the ones in the crowd turning away in disgust when they discover that the bleeding (unclean) woman has just pushed her way through. They are the pharisees worried about proper handwashing and dinner company. They are the crowds crying out for Barabbas to be free and condemning the good man standing in front of them. 

But it is this homeless man who is most righteous of them all. It is he who is not depending upon himself, who dares to dream of something better, who believes in more than he can see with his own eyes. It is he who, by accounts of all those who actually know him (and haven't just read his story on the Internet), is the truly good man. And he is most blessed.

All these stories, all these same old stories, continuing to divide our world. It's amazing, isn't it? And all these persons, all these men and women who seem to keep getting the short end of our stick, they are blessed indeed. Blessed without our even knowing it because we're so busy keeping the rules, keeping the books, keeping the status quo that we won't even look their way. Because we refuse to look their way. 

You hypocrite! You Pharisee!

Blessed are these....

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