It happened again, just a minute ago. Answered a phone call at work – the caller immediately launched into the story of their current seemingly hopeless life circumstances, & their great need for help. Meaning financial help. After listening for a minute, I answered, “I’m sorry – we don’t have…” The caller interrupted with a string of expletives, a few more choice words, & hung up.
I work as the pastor of a church, & these types of calls (& drop-in visits) are a fact of every day life – even more so during the holiday season. The requests come from people I don’t know & have never met. People in genuine need. Desperate people. They need rent money. Gas money. Food money. Money to get the electricity turned back on. To reactivate their cell phone.
It breaks my heart.
And at the same time I think of the people that we have been able to help… & just about every time (I’d bet 95%,) it has been someone we have at least the beginning of a relationship with – whether it be through church, extended family, &/or the friend of a friend. And that makes me happy, because we can be a part of not only helping someone with a specific need, but also walk through life with them to see them come out the other side.
Until the next drop-in. The next phone call. And the expletives. And nasty words. Accusations of “church corruption” & a “god who doesn’t care about people.” In the role that I serve in, I am often the first line of contact with people requesting financial assistance – & I make the decisions I make based on the policies our church financial council has put into place, an understanding of our current church budget, & what our current financial obligations are. And it tears me up.
A few years ago, a dear friend of mine talked to me about the significance of good stewardship – basically acknowledging God as the One who provides all of our needs from HIS resources. A steward doesn’t function with their own resources, but is acting on the behalf of others. And as such, WHAT we do with our finances & resources, individually & as a church, is viewed through the lens of being a good steward – especially since we don’t function with unlimited resources. And that means being willing to say, “No.”
I think about Peter, Jesus’ disciple, when he was standing outside the temple on the way to prayer. A guy who couldn’t walk hit Peter up for money – & Peter didn’t have any. His response was, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have I’ll give you. In Jesus Name, stand up & walk.” (Acts 3:1-7, The Message.)
I think about when Jesus’ treacherous disciple, Judas Iscariot, freaked out when Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume in preparation for His crucifixion & burial. How he said the perfume should have been sold & the money given to the poor. (The kicker in his case was that, as the keeper of the disciples’ communal purse, he wanted to have access to the money.)
But the point of that story is what Jesus answered him, simply saying, “The poor you will always have with you.” (John 12:1-8, The Message.)
It makes me think that poverty & the poor are by-product of a broken world system, one where the rich get rich, & the poor suffer. That the results of sin in our world put people through hell on earth, where they suffer injustice & lack.
So I pray. A lot. I ask God for clarity & for wisdom – to be able to know who & in what situations we can help. And to keep a soft heart instead of letting it get calloused & crusty… & falling prey to the wrong of lumping those people into a category instead of treating them with the love & compassion that is due to people created in God’s image.