We Need the Poor
Now that I have your attention, let me explain. Mercy ministry is a necessary part of what it means to follow Jesus. God’s love in Jesus needs an outlet. People in need are the best “outlet” or recipients of Jesus’ love through us, his ministers. As a coach needs a team to lead and a teacher needs at least one student, so believers need people in need to serve in order to be authentic followers of Jesus.
Or think about our need for the poor in terms of God’s priorities. I like the way Michael Elliot says it in his book Playing Hide and Seek which is not a book about children’s games, but about finding God in places we do not expect. Elliot says:
- God wants us to know that being involved with the poor makes us quit thinking so much about ourselves—and God wants us to think less about ourselves.
- God wants us to think about new things, and poor people force us to think about things we would usually never consider.
- Being involved with poor people forces us to rely on God when looking for a solution to problems too overwhelming to solve on our own.
Out of Sight—Out of Mind
All of us are creatures of habit. We move about our community in the same traffic patterns most of the time. We rarely go into the pockets of despair that exist in our community. We don’t see people in need because we don’t go where they are. Consequently, we forget that some children go to bed hungry regularly. We forget that there are people in our community without a job or a home. We forget that there are millions of people who are victimized by greed or injustice. We forget and forget… because we do not see them. And because they are out of sight, they are out of mind.
We need the poor to remind us they exist. Possibly the most surprising consequence of the out-of-sight-out-of-mind reality is that those of us who are “haves” live impoverished lives. Not impoverished in the same way that the poor live, but impoverished from the truth about our world. As many newspapers’ mastheads remind us: What we don’t know does hurt us.
Purpose for Life
Most of us understand that we have a responsibility to care for others even if we do not always exhibit that understanding in our behavior. We do not need to hear a sermon on serving others to be convinced, although if the sermon contains practical suggestions as to how to serve others, it will be helpful.
One of the strongest indicators of sound mental health and happiness is a sense of self-worth. Study after study verifies this fact. Nothing so satisfies our need of self-worth and purpose than doing for others, especially those in need. In this well-known book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made Dr. Paul Brand tells the story of one Abbe’ Pierre, a Catholic friar assigned to work among the beggars of Paris following WWII. After several attempts at more conventional ways of helping the poor, Pierre found the most effective means of helping them was giving each one the responsibility of helping beggars poorer than themselves. He organized them to build a warehouse and gather discarded bottles around the city which they used to build a profitable business. In time the number of beggars in Paris dwindled and this ministry faced a crisis. In Brand’s words:
Pierre said: “I must find someone for my beggars to help! If I don’t find people worse off than my beggars, this movement could turn inward. They’ll become a powerful, rich organization and the whole spiritual impact will be lost! They’ll have no one to serve.”
I heard about a prominent pastor who told a small group at a national conference: “I’m done with small groups! All they do is ask what we’ve done for them lately.” He went on to explain himself: “We’ve found that people grow more spiritually when they serve others than in any other way.”
So, let me ask: Has this been your experience? Can you remember when you grew noticeably in your relationship with God? In what ways were you serving people in need at that time?
A lot of people treat Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, the “inasmuch” passage (in the KJV or NKJV), figuratively. That is to say, they do not believe Jesus meant service to the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, and so forth is in face service to him.
Such an interpretation not only disrespects Jesus’ words but it also disregards what we know about him. The Jesus who calmed a violent storm with his voice and healed a woman who merely touched the hem of his clothes is capable of being spiritually present in the people of need we encounter on the highways of life. The Jesus who was raised from the dead is capable of being wherever he chooses, whenever he chooses, and in whomever he chooses—including the poor, the oppressed, and the hopeless.
Jesus said: “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”Matthew 25:40
Consider the story of Lynne McCauley reported in an article on the Leadership Network website.
I sat down to have breakfast with two homeless men [at an inner-city outreach program] and talk about life on the streets. As we were talking, one of the men began to have a seizure. I was a critical care nurse for 11 years, so I was familiar with the scenario and helped lay him on the ground and to talk to him during the episode. As I knelt beside him on the floor and talked, he kept his vision locked on me and I on him. The paramedics arrived and began to care for him in a cold and impersonal way. All the while he stayed locked on me. As they bundled him on the gurney and prepared to roll him out to the ambulance, he pulled down his oxygen mask, looked me directly in the eye and whispered, “Thank you.” I looked at this man — dirty, unkempt, vomit on his beard and smelling of alcohol and urine — and I thought to myself, “I am looking into the face of Christ.” I knew right then that I was right where God wanted me and I have been involved [in mercy ministry] ever since.
Do you agree or disagree with the statement “We need the poor?” Do you have reasons other than those cited above why this is true?