“I asked participants who claimed to be “strong followers of Jesus” whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said yes. Later in the survey, I sneaked in another question, I asked this same group of strong followers whether they spent time wit the poor, and less than 2 percent said they did. I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”- Shane Claiborne
There has been a reoccurring theme in my thought process for the past weeks, some days I have been able to brush these thoughts off, however lately, they have come back in such a way where I know they can no longer be ignored. I wonder as I write, if this is only an attempt to partly satisfy or dull my conviction enough to buy a little more time from having to take action. Nevertheless, I feel as though this will in some small way keep me accountable. For those of you who read this and live life with me, I offer you full permission to strip me of my pride and remind me of this call to change if none has been seen in the way I live.
I chose at the age of 18 to pursue full time ministry not only as a career choice, but as a lifestyle. Essentially I want to spend the rest of my life teaching the same truth that set me free, that made what felt empty whole, and that radically changed my everyday living from merely existing to living a life more full and satisfying than I ever could have attained on my own. I believe in that truth, which means I believe in the God who it comes from, who sets it in motion into every part of who I am. My greatest example of how to reflect that truth in the way I live, is the example I find in the life of Jesus Christ. He is the greatest example of sacrifice, humility, servant-hood, strength, and unmarred love. If I am truly to live my life in a way that is honoring and pleasing to the one I love most; Jesus is my greatest teacher.
My thought process I mentioned earlier, began when I borrowed a book from a friend titled “The Greatest Sermons ever preached”, some of the featured preachers or speakers listed were: Tony Campolo, Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther King Jr., DL Moody, etc. I’ve only read a few of these sermons so far and though all have definitely lived up to the title of the book, the one that has most affected my thinking, was an address by Mother Theresa during a National Prayer breakfast in Washington DC. The following words revived a sleeping conviction, jolting it back to life.
How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live?
And so it is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.
It hurt Jesus to love us. We have been created in His image for greater things, to love and to be loved. We must “put on Christ” as Scripture tells us. And so, we have been created to love and to be loved, and God has become man to make it possible for us to love as He loved us. Jesus makes Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the unwanted one, and He says, “You did it to Me.” On the last day He will say to those on His right, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to Me,” and He will also say to those on His left, “Whatever you neglected to do for the least of these you neglected to do it for Me.”
What a sobering truth this is… how can I claim to love God with the depth that I want to believe my love for Him goes, if my love for my ‘neighbor’ continues to remain so shallow? I want to make a very important point to say that the emotions this thought has brought forward have not been of fear or obligation, nor a feeling of judgment, that I have not followed a ‘rule’ therefore I will be punished. If those were the emotions that were driving my desire to change, well, that would not be love at all, it would be action driven by selfishness to attain good standing for myself with God. No, I do not feel fear, I feel sad. If my boyfriend, my family, or another loved one came to me and said that I have not made them feel loved, my heart would break. I do love God, which means I love what He loves and there is no message blaring louder in His word than the black and white truth that He loves who he created, and the softest part of His heart is for those he created who are not being shown love.
Moving forward… a few days after I had read that sermon I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine and we were talking about career choices, financial stresses, etc. I had said to her “I wonder what kind of conversation we’re going to have with God when we’re standing before Him for the first time. I feel like what He’s going to bring up as the things that he was most concerned about in our lives are going to be so different than what we think they are. We put certain pressures on ourselves over things that He could care less about, but we don’t feel any pressure or conviction for things that are closest to his heart.” Once again, a sobering thought.
For those of you who have children, or have taken a young child out for the day in public; you will be able to understand this next experience I had. I was riding on the bus in Toronto with my niece who will be 2 years old in August and although I know I’m biased, she really is the cutest little girl on the face of the earth. I watched as grown men who in appearance and demeanor were quite intimidating and did not look as though they were in a good mood, completely soften as my niece smiled at them, stretching out her feet in her stroller to show them her pretty white shoes. Immediately she had their attention, they reached out their hand to her and I was thinking to myself that she would be too shy to grab their hand and would probably even pull back, but I was wrong. She grabbed onto the one mans finger and she smiled just as happily as she would if it was one of us playing with her. I couldn’t help but think in that moment “no wonder God says He loves children so much”, they are no respecters of persons, they have not lived long enough to form prejudices or judgments, they love with a purer love than we do. In that moment, I asked God “show me how to love like this”.
It’s so easy to forget, to become calloused in the midst of our comfortable living; to forget that though daily we ‘want’ or feel the pressures of ‘needing more’ we live in lavish excess. So what exactly is it that I need to remember? That this world in all of it’s pressures, and proprieties, cannot be what determine my convictions. What needs to change? I’ll have to determine that as I go, but I know that for now I could start with cutting off some of that ‘excess’, refocusing my priorities, and making sure I follow my nieces example of loving without hesitation.
The title of this post is “I don’t love the poor”…. I titled it this way simply because.. I do not feel I have shown the love I claim to have in the way I know I am called to. This must change. I encourage you ask yourself if this change is for you as well. Determine who your neighbor is and then ask yourself if you truly love them as you know you are able to. Let’s love as we have been called to love; if we can do this, what a more full life this would be.
“We are not a voice for the voiceless. The truth is that there is a lot of noise out there drowning out quiet voices, and many people have stopped listening to the cries of their neighbors. Lots of folks have put their hands over their ears to drown out the suffering. Institutions have distanced themselves from the disturbing cries..
It is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle. One of the verses I have grown to love is the one where Jesus is preparing to leave the disciples and says, “I no longer call you servants…. Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Servanthood is a fine place to begin, but gradually we move toward mutual love, genuine relationships. Someday, perhaps we can even say those words that Ruth said to Naomi after years of partnership: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).” – Shane Claiborne