Saturday, April 08, 2006

“Go and do the same.”

Jas 2:15-17 "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

in 2001 i went on a trip with my home body to a place called gleanings for the hungry. that's not the relevant part of this story, it just gives context. when we flew out to california, we spent the first afternoon in san francisco. on walking down the street in chinatown, we came across a homeless man. as we walked on past, his eyes met mine. more than anything, he had an overwhelming look of confusion in his eyes. a look of one who is lost and doesn't know what to do. no one else in our group even seemed to notice him. "oh lord", i prayed, "help this poor man. help him to find what he needs."

no sooner had these words left my mental lips than this scripture came crashing down inside of me like a ton of bricks. the hollowness of my words reverberated around and around my heart until...(CRACK). it was one of those moments. if you've ever had one, you know what i mean. i was instantaneously broken. wide, W I D E O P E N. stunned to the core of my being for a few reasons.
1. - i had always fancied myself a compassionate person. at this moment, i was made accutely aware of just how hard my heart truly was.
2. - i realized that even if i had attempted to do something, i truly have nothing. i had nothing in my posession to "fix" that man. if anything was to happen, it would have to have been god.
3. - and the most powerful part. as we were driving away, we passed the same spot on the street. this man was no longer alone. another homeless gentleman was helping him up. helping him to somewhere or something else...

that was the last straw. after seeing that, i was obliterated. this man who had stopped to help had even less to offer, materially, than i did. but offer all the same he did. i was not right for about twenty-four hours. silent. contemplative. broken. replaying the scenario. asking. listening. what could i have done? what do you want to show me? what would you have me do? and why would a group of "god's people" so bent on doing "god's work" pass it by on the street? was our schedule that important? do our plans make us unavailable to god in the moment?

since then, i try hard to listen to myself when i encounter a scene of this nature. i listen to the prayers that i offer as a knee jerk. when i see a homeless person. when i see someone stopped by the side of the road on the freeway. when i see a mother struggling with children and groceries. when i see a young mother in our parking lot crying and screaming because her boyfriend has just peeled out of the lot after throwing her keys into the dark, snowy yard leaving her, her 2 year old son, and her 7 day old baby out in the cold with no where to go.

i listen to my heart. how often my immediate reaction of heart amounts to..."hey god, someone needs help. pull through, old buddy. i know you can do it! i've got faith in you! i've got other, more important, things to do right now..."

Mt 20:32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
this, i think, is our only response. to stop, reach out, and ask these words. we would do well to follow our lord's example in such matters.

Lk. 10:36-37 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”


Paul said...

Powerful blog.

You said "i was not right for about twenty-four hours. silent. contemplative. broken. replaying the scenario. asking. listening." I find that very often we have 24 hour comtemplations after an experience like you described, but our hearts remain unchanged at hour 25 - things seem to reset in our hearts until we pass by yet another "Jesus" on the street.

I am not in ANY way saying that is what happened with you, in fact it sounds like your 24 hours have extended into a life-long contemplation. Good for you.

But for many, the scenario just translates into an emotional experience that is short lived.

Our pastor is away and he asked me to speak at church tonight. I am using Mark 6:12-13 - "So they went out and preached that men should change their whole outlook. They expelled many evil spirits and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them."

When I read this verse last week I couldn't help but "see" it differently than before. Not only did Jesus send out the Twelve with His message, but He also sent them out to deliver His mercy.

That's why your blog is so important. It is a reminder that we, too, are to "go" and bring help and healing to others.

Susan said...

I must admit to struggling with this issue. Often I find people in situations where they don't want real help or mercy, just $20 to fix the current crisis.

Wendy ftfs said...

... and I guess those times are what hardens our hearts and causes cynicalality,,, lol NEW word.

Jesus said to those who ask of you give ... he didnt actually say check them out and make SURE they need it ... Surrender? Do we really know what that means?

Matthew 5:38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

If we do these things that seem to be unwise to many.... (just ask around and you will see.) we will be protected....

Do we really believe that we should not resist an evil person? Hmmm

Herschel said...

ive been one of those moments, more often than I wish i could say...

this apst weekend in chicago, after our meetings were thru, we had to run downtown to pick up some amtrak tickets and this man came up and asked us for some money.

i had 60+ dollars in my wallet, and i told him i had none.

"He didnt look homeless" was what i kept telling myself, but then it hit me as soon as i thought that.

"when did we see you poor? when did we see you hungry?"

The least of these.

man. i felt worthless the entire 6 hours home and really up until this afternoon.

i have too many othe rinstances of this.

Lord make me DO and not just see, hear, and say.

Susan said...

I may be on my own in this but I think the giving of money to unknown persons is not the most loving or wise thing to do, it could even be dangerous (unless of course God specifically puts it on your heart in a particular situation). We are told to "Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders" Colossians 4:5 and after all the wise virgins didn't give their oil to the foolish virgins.

I think the passage about not resisting an evil person is about not clinging to our rights as in 1 Corinthians 6:7. "Why not just accept mistreatment and leave it at that? It would be far more honouring to the Lord to let yourselves be cheated".

Perhaps the prayer that needs to be on our heart is: What do you want me to do about this situation, Lord? And not be disappointed if He says nothing. Jesus saw a lot of things that need doing but He only did what His Father told Him to do.

There are lots of general instruction about helping the poor in the Bible (eg Galatians 2:10). But the two stories that Jesus told, that we use a lot in this regard, are worth a second look:

In the story Jesus told about the sheep and the goats, there is one word that is consistently overlooked and that is the word "brethren". Jesus only ever calls His own children "brethren" it is not a word he uses with unbelievers. So although this story is often used to encourage us to support the unknown poor, the story is more about helping and supporting Christians that we know and fellowship with.

Mark Buchanan in "The Holy Wild" has an interesting take on the story of the Good Samaritan: "Which of the three do you think was a neighbour …? The one who had mercy on him." So who is my neighbour? Who is the one that I am to love? The Samaritan (whereas mostly we use the story to say love the one who fell into the hands of robbers). Yet I'm to love the who showed mercy. My neighbour isn't always someone I have mercy upon - sometimes it the one who has mercy on me and isn't that a tougher call, to own up to being the one in need of mercy.

Paul said...

Susan: in many ways I agree with you. I very rarely give money to people on the street, or that I don't know - mostly because I know they it may be misused by the recipient.

That is why Jon's blog, and your comments are important. Why else could we do?

You're right - we need to do what God tells us (even if that means giving $60 from our wallet - I have been there, done that too.) But in many cases, and in my experience, it was more about the "need" at hand.

That meant there were times I had to stop and buy a person a meal, etc., even though I was on my way "somewhere", doing "something" that seemed pressing and important.

Which is why it is so important to ask the Holy Spirit to "give us ears to hear" what He says.

vin-vin said...

In a sense, this is the same predicament that made many criticize the WWJD bracelets.

Namely, when we ask ourselves, truly, "What would Jesus do?" We are faced with an enormous question which is a treetop at the bottom of which are the foundations of our faith.

One Jesus that we see in the Gospels would do anything for anyone, who said that living the Gospel was hard, that your belongings didn't matter, and that following Him would make you enemies including perhaps your family.

WWJD? Jesus would have physically healed the sick, raised the dead, and died on the cross for all of humanity.

In that Jesus we see a radical life and limitless compassion and in our desire to truly emulate Christ we want to do the same (as much as we can, hampered by our own selfishness, complete humanity and sense of self-preservation).

But of course, I am not Jesus... and even in striving to act like Him there are some aspects of my impression that will never be very good for a lot of reasons, some good, some bad, some metaphysical and some historical.

But it is in the practice of that compassion that we get hung up. Do we give the wino the 5 bucks that we think will probably get spent on Thunderbird? Do we donate that $5 to a soup kitchen? Do we withold the fiver but then in the end "forget" to donate it to the soup kitchen?

How do we reconcile our selfishness, our generosity, our desire to hand over our cloak when asked, and our desire to do things that will truly be helpful in the long run to a person in need? There are so many conflicting voices even within the homeless advocacy world and within the church that it is even harder.

I have always been a very conscience-driven person, and ultimately, *I* feel like the fact that I have the $5 but I don't want to give it away is just the treetop of my shame.

Beyond the five bucks, the roots of my shame might be that I live so comfortably and the withheld five dollars is just a tiny reflection of the more obscene withholding I do on a daily basis and whether I am thinking of it or not, my conscience recognizes the hypocrisy because I know in my heart that even though I am probably not called to die on a cross, I'm certainly not living a radical enough life, either.

Wendy ftfs said...

That's cool Vin Vin
I took Matthew 5:38 to heart as a young believer... it was put to the test immediately ... There was a young man in the small town that I lived in who had been in a car accident. He had stolen the car and racked it up bad and in the process permanently injured himself... brain damage and he walked with a severe limp. We all knew him and he wasn't doing the best things for himself... even though he had been severely injured he still had a bad attitude... I would talk with him occasionally as he had few friends. Then it happened ..he began to ask me for money... a few bucks here and a few there. He started to show up on my payday and ask ... and I know by the above comments that some of you think I was crazy.. I did as the Lord said and gave him some money every time he asked... trusting that the Lord knew what He was teaching... money was tight for me's not like I had a lot... but here is what happened... about three weeks into this he started to show up on days when I had paid all the bills and bought groceries and had no money on me... wouldn't have any for a couple of days... so I honestly had to say I couldn't give him any ... and told him why... he soon stopped asking and I didn't have to dishonestly deny giving him some cash. The Lord knows what's up and people won't ask you for anything that He doesn't have His hand in... We remained friends... he would come by to visit and heard the Gospel at our home... So what I am saying is...don't hold on so tight to what you have ... if a wino asks something of you... the Lord has sent them to you... it's not our job to decide what is going to happen to the cash we give that is the Lord's... The Lord's foolishness is wiser than the greatest wisdom of man... so it just follows that He should be totally in charge.

jON said...

well it's good to see that you guys are comfortable enough to come right in and make yourselves at home.

the hard thing for me about this issue has been expressed in the past through the concerns that susan has expressed, and have found their culmination in what wendy and vin vin and paul have expressed in various ways.

i echo wendy in that we are not called to account for what our aid is used for, but that we are faithful in what we have been commanded by our lord, i.e. "give to the one who asks..."

yet, i also know the desire to be frugal and a good steward. which is why i found, earlier this year, that when the need was expressed over and over again by my neighbors, that there was indeed something deeper going on. i believe in the moment i needed to be faithful to give when asked, but as paul has expressed, to go further. to address the root of the need. the difference between giving a man a fish and teching him how to fish. if he's hungry now, give him a fish. if he keeps being hungry, take him fishing with you, so to speak.

ah, but the discrenment to know which is called for and when! help us lord! help us to hear you and respond even if it is painful and sacrificial! may we be willing to empty our bank accounts daily if the needs are presented knowing that you are our souce and provider and not our paychecks. but help us to make the greater sacrifice of coming alongside one such as this, sacrifice our time to be common with them and form relationship with them as is necessary to help them and heal them fully with your grace and provision.

Susan said...

Yes, we do indeed need discernment.

I think it is easy to give someone a "fish" which eases our conscience and solves their immediate need. It so much more challenging and costly to teach that person to "fish".

Herschel said...

hope you've had a good Easter

jON said...

well thanks, man.

excellent. truly excellent. we
just got back into town. a post with pictures will be forthcoming.