I have mixed emotions about the poor and needy. Been there, done that. In order to protect the feelings of others I don’t often discuss how poor or needy I have been in the past. Another lifetime… and by God’s grace one that I don’t often think about. But I do have enough experience to know that many people are homeless and hungry because of their own mistakes and habits and poor decisions. They are not all victims of circumstance or disaster. So I am sometimes inclined to think “you made your bed…” or “We worked hard to get out, and you can too!” But the softer side of me knows that neither attitude will keep someone warm or fill their stomach. And it’s impossible to do anything positive and productive about your situation when you are cold and hungry.
During cold weather and natural disasters we see and hear a lot about charity. At times of crisis we are more than willing to collect supplies and raise money and rush to aid those in need. When we shiver during our walk from our warm house to our warm car, we worry about those huddled in icy alleys. But many of the poor are poor 365 days a year. They live through one crisis after another. They exist from one day to another, dependent on shelters and food banks or friends and relatives. When the skies clear and the weather warms up and our attentions return to lawn mowing and sports and vacations we tend to forget that others are still sleeping on the street and rummaging through garbage cans for their next meal. So it is crucial for them and for the rest of us to have programs and policies in place that address the issues of poverty and hunger all year long. That’s where life gets complicated. That’s where people draw a line and argue over the government’s role in supporting people. That’s when poverty becomes a pawn in the budget debates and legislative squabbles. That’s when charity becomes so complicated that we have yet to arrive at any national consensus that solves the problems of the poor and needy. Perhaps that’s why the Bible says that the poor will always be with us.
I thought it ironic that the story of groups across the nation raising money for the Philippines was reported last night on the same day as the announcement that Francis Bacon’s painting sold for a record $142.4 million dollars. In fact, the total for the Christie’s auction was $691.5 million dollars, the highest total for any single auction in history. I don’t know who has that much money. We live in a world of extreme contrasts and there are certainly lifestyles and priorities that I don’t comprehend at all. But it just goes to show that lack of money is not the world’s problem…only the distribution of it.
The Bible admonishes us not to judge others, neither the poor nor the wealthy, lest we be judged by them as well. But pay careful attention to Matthew and the context of his words. He doesn’t say we are forbidden to judge. He just warns us not to dish it out if we can’t take it ourselves! We love to quote 7:1 to our own advantage, depending on our purpose, but we overlook the conclusion of 7:12- “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” So you can do whatever you want. As for me, I think that during the cold months ahead I would want people to give me a warm coat and a hearty meal and wait until spring to judge my mistakes. So that’s what I’ll do.