First Step in Loving The Poor - Notice Them

A family returns home with bags of items from a local community service center.Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me." Mark 14:7. As everything else in the Bible, this verse needs to be read in context to interpret correctly. Jesus was in no way downplaying the importance of helping the poor. He was reacting to the wrongheaded indignance of those who saw the woman "waste" money by pouring perfume on his feet and worshipping him.

They used the poor as a convenient reason for her not to worship Him in this way.

The woman's display of gratitude and affection made them extremely uncomfortable and they wanted to appear holy while still critizing her actions. I've seen good people use the poor as the reason for not doing lots of things that God is calling them to. Jesus basically tells them, "if serving the poor is so important to you, there is plenty of opportunity for YOU to do that." I'm pretty sure that these individuals weren't already spending a lot of time serving the poor.

Here's what I take away from this story:

  1. My worship of Jesus should at times be extravegant. It should cost me something (money, dignity, etc)
  2. I should never let religion get in the way of how God calls me to serve Him right now.
  3. There are people in need all around me, and I have a daily opportunity to love and serve them. I should recognize this and seek ways to do so.

The problem is that we often don't even recognize the poor among us. Their needs become invisible to us because we can't relate.

This excert from an Economist article helps tell the story of America's poverty.

WHEN Barack Obama first ran for president, Emma Hamilton was part of that politically crucial cohort, the white working class. A tall woman with tawny hair, broad shoulders, a firm handshake and a forthright, direct manner, Ms Hamilton worked as a loader at a factory in Sumter, a modest city of 40,000 in east-central South Carolina. In July 2008, however, after seven years on the factory floor, she mangled her hand between two heavy rollers. The accident was to leave her unable to work.

She lost her house three years later, in April 2011. She, her 20-year-old son and her dog moved into her teal Chevy van, where they have been living ever since, collecting metal cans during the day and sleeping in a grocery-store car park at night.

Most of us would meet this woman today and probably make assumptions about her character.  It's difficult to relate to someone who has literally lost everything due to an accident and is now homeless.

In a poll by the Salvation Army, it was confirmed that many Americans don't understand poverty.

Almost three out of five people surveyed said poverty is a trap some people just can’t escape no matter how hard they try while more than half believes it’s not possible to eliminate poverty in our society. About a third said there is “really nothing much I can do to help poor people.

The reality is that most Western Christians share the same views on poverty as non-Christians.  Jesus saw past the outward appearance of people and the stigma that society put on them (poor, sinner, drunk, prostitute, insane, sick).  He saw human beings made in the image of Himself, and he touched them.

HOW TO RECOGNIZE POVERTY AROUND YOU

(taken from a document from UK's Children's Workforce Development Council)

  • Malnutrition/poor health.
  • Lack of adequate clothing.
  • Lack of training or qualifications.
  • Lack of adequate housing.
  • Lack of childcare.
  • Unemployment.
  • Poor access to transport.
  • Being in receipt of benefits.
  • Not having a bank account.
  • Spending more than 10% of income on energy bills or not being able to afford household bills (fuel poverty).
  • Being in receipt of free school meals.
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs.
  • Being in rent or mortgage arrears or debt.

While the above aren't all exclusive to the poor, they are good indicators that someone is living without adequate resources.

What are some common indicators of poverty that you have observed?

What have you done about poverty when you've recognized it?