Saturday, April 14, 2012

Embracing Faces Of Poverty, On The Streets & In The Mirror

"If sometimes our poor people have had to die of starvation, it is not because God didn't care for them, but because you and I didn't give, were not instruments of love in the hands of God, to give them that clothing; because we did not recognize him, when once more Christ came in distressing disguise - in the hungry man, in the lonely man, in the homeless child, and seeking for shelter.

God has identified himself with the hungry, the sick, the naked, the homeless; hunger, not only for bread, but for love, for care, to be somebody to someone; nakedness, not of clothing only, but nakedness of that compassion that very few people give to the unknown; homelessness, not only just for a shelter made of stone, but that homelessness that comes from having no one to call your own."

~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Wise words from Mother Teresa, who left this earth in 1997.  The above quote raises certain questions that I must ask myself. If God has truly identified himself with the hungry, the sick, the naked and the homeless, and if Jesus also identified himself with the poor and needy, what implications does this have for my life today? I can think of two:

1) I will no longer turn my head while walking on the main street downtown when a person with a visible mental illness walks by.  I will not look with disdain at the men smoking cigarettes outside of their shelter. Even if I can't give money, I will react with empathy when the young mother asks me for money as I pass by.  I will not hold onto too many material goods, instead donating them to charities that do excellent work in the community.  A big question that I will be forced to ask, "How do I look at these people as my brother or sister, rather than a nuisance."

There is a verse in the New Testament book of James which says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."  So according to James, it is my job, my duty to care for those in distress. But how can I "keep oneself unstained by the world?"  I can do so by looking for the face of God in the poor and needy rather than collecting more and more physical materials, which I can't take into the next life anyway.

2) I will not be so quick to run away from my own poverty, be it physical, emotional, or otherwise. This is very hard to do, because it seems as if many of us are programmed from birth to avoid poverty, and when I need something I immediately go out and get something to assuage that need.  But I have noticed as I've lived in poverty for some time now, that the annoyance and the hurt that poverty brings also carries with it a "pull" or a "drawing toward" God and my inner wisdom.  When I don't have movies that I can constantly entertain myself with, when I do not have a lot of events that I can attend, I am left with the question: "Do you trust me?"  Jesus' words as recorded by Matthew quickly follow: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6: 19-21)

I think that sometimes I do myself a disservice by automatically running away from pain or poverty or hurt.  Rather, I can find God and the true treasures of life when I look into that pain.

Let us learn today to embrace those who are poor and in need, including ourselves.