All human beings like to feel that we have a reason for existing. It’s not narcissistic: created in the image of a creative God, we have it in us — in our genes, in our DNA, in our soul, in our being — to use the limited number of years we live on this earth, meaningfully.
Some people, who don’t know God or aren’t particularly interested in Him, set their sights toward creating empires and dynasties of their own: financial, political, or religious, and we’re really not concerned with these parasites, sucking the lifeblood from others. Their portion, as Psalm 17:14 says, is in this life, and true to the nature of man, they need to steal from other people’s portion, because what they have is never enough.
As ordinary people, one of the most dominating and pervasive messages we hear is that we — the “masses” which make up the bulk of the planet — can’t really do much of import, but best spend our time and money by vicariously living through movies, TV, and other entertainment; buy buy buying the products that are advertised therein; pretending to engage in the process of governing ourselves by casting a vote, and, when dealing with those who employ religious terminology in their empire building, sending money so that they can “do the work of the Lord.”
More Than Money
But in willingly submitting ourselves to these people, we eclipse the good things that we are given to do, resigned to the depressing notion that most of us don’t perform “God’s work,” but rather, struggle to meet our taxation, inflation, and mandated insurance obligations by working “just a job,” during which time, we are told, millions and billions of souls are heading straight for hell because Evangelist A and Ministry B do not have enough funds to reach the world for Christ.
Just send a check, please. Or better yet, set up a monthly payment via PayPal, credit card, or your bank account. And then go do your useless job. That is, if you have one.
As children of God, we have hope in Jesus far exceeding what we are taught from the pulpit, on TV, through books, in advertisements, or via Facebook memes that purport to be written by “ordinary people.” One of these hopeful messages is in Matthew 25:31-46, which tells the story of the sheep and the goats.
Now evangelical Christians are traditionally taught that this is a separation of those who pass Go and collect a heavenly inheritance and those who are cast into the eternal lake of fire, based upon that peculiar twisting of verses that the establishment has crafted to a state of perfection: to wit, the criteria for who goes where hangs upon a heavenly Billy Graham crusade: “Who made ‘a decision for Jesus’? You? Okay, you’re a sheep. Who left the show without debasing themselves before thousands of people, got in a car accident before they made it home, and no longer can make this choice? You? Okay, you’re a goat. Off to hell you go.”
But if we read the passage, without helpful promptings from celebrity Christian leaders, we see that there is no basis for reciting the Four Spiritual Laws (another man made creation, by the way; the word “Law” figuring prominently in its title).
The criteria for the separation of sheep from the goats is mundane, similar to the impression we are given of our lives:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
If we know someone in prison, it’s probably not a prominent political figure, temporarily fallen from grace, who will later start an important ministry. More likely, it’s our neighbor’s son, a n’er-do’well who’s always been in trouble and deserves what he got. He’s just a loser.
Well, if we’ve got that attitude, it’s best to stay away, but if we can humble ourselves because we don’t know the whole story, we could bring him by a book (not a religious one, please), or just drop in on his mom and share a cup of tea. She probably feels like a pariah.
Hungry people? Yes, there are food stamps, as the conservative media voice brays (not much difference, really, between a donkey and an elephant), and we’re supposed to look down on those horrible people who abuse the system, without ever asking ourselves just why that system is so easy to abuse, anyway. Are government planners THAT stupid?
Many people are hungry, but they’re too proud to say so. It’s debasing, dealing with the welfare system. Those who do walk out the door with an EBT card may eat the way they do for the same reason that the wealthy elite eats the way it does: they don’t know how to cook. Would it damage us so much to give the guy with the cardboard sign a banana? Or hand $5 to the obviously embarrassed woman in the shopping line ahead of us, who is delaying everybody by looking through her purse for $3.67?
Sure, they may or may not be frauds, but we give our money to frauds all the time. They just don’t look like individual people.
It is simple, and difficult, to do what Christ is talking about: simple, because it’s really not asking that much; difficult, because, yes, we could be cheated, and yes, sometimes people get into problems of their own making. (We all do that, and breathe a sigh of relief when others don’t find out.)
Everyone of us ordinary, regular people has neighbors, friends, acquaintances, family, total strangers we run into — precious people with problems, unnoticed and untargeted for “help” by the mega-associations and government programs and non-profit groups and ministries and philanthropists that often do little more than give the illusion of doing the work that God gave us — just ordinary people — the ability, power, and grace to do.
Come, let us focus upon “the least of these brothers of mine,” as Jesus puts it. It’s the most meaningful work there is.
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. I am an ordinary person, writing to and for ordinary people, trying to open our eyes to our value and worth.
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Well, we have so much opportunity to help the less fortunate here…in the main town next to us anyway where we mostly shop, etc. We carry McDonald’s cards ($5) to hand out…and now that McD’s is improving the quality of their food we feel even better about giving these out. You cannot get back any money from those cards…thus more chance they are going for food, rather than liquor or cigarettes or worse. We will be hunting more in future for other options as well. I agree with helping folks in the grocery line too…esp. when you see it is for food and necessary things!! A few times we have taken people into a store and gotten them as much as $300 worth of groceries…though I did learn one thing…the next time we are asked for this type of help, to get them to make a list…and we will get what is healthy…rather than such things as are not…we got this one guy stuff we do not even feel right about buying for ourselves…so won’t do that again. While another man we helped that I think was truly more needy…chose such cheap stuff and we talked him into getting more quality things. Tis just easier to ask them what they want, make the list, go inside and buy it and bring out to them.
It is hard to know sometimes in helping others…one couple who were our assistant pastors, we sent checks to on a regular basis…then one night they had us to dinner…they THREW OUT all the leftovers, perfectly wonderful food we would have loved to have taken home actually…hmmmm, sometimes there is a reason folks are poor…we NEVER threw out such (unless it got moldy on us in fridge…heh).
Food, shelter, clothing — those basics are so important, and important to our dignity as well. It sounds like, in addition to being wise in your giving, you are having fun with it as well. I think there’s a reason Jesus specifically addressed these matters, simply because they are so indispensable to our being able to live down on this earth.
I know what you mean about the difficulty; sometimes people’s standards seem finicky to us (like the leftovers), and you can see where they would have less of a problem if they changed their ways. It’s so hard to be discerning without being judging, but I agree with you about using up what one has. That, sadly, is a difficult concept for many people in our society, and oddly, many church-type-Christians have a skewed view of money — they feel as if they deserve an excellent lifestyle, simply by virtue of being Christian (as if it’s a result of their faith, somehow; one can see the greasy imprints of our corporation-style societal teachings all over this).
In our years of church attendance when we felt compelled to tithe, we had difficulties, like you observe, in giving to people who had more than we did, or lived in such a fashion that they eschewed what we felt to be valuable. It didn’t take long before we found alternative places to send our money, and rather than fund Sunday School materials or add to a pastor’s salary (which was more than we were making), we found ways of getting food, or clothing, and other essential items, to real people. Ironically, we were considered selfish and un-Christian for doing this, because we weren’t “supporting the church.”
I hear ya, I hear ya, Carolyn!!
I am sort of incompetent when it comes to making smiling emoticons, so I will say, “You make me smile, Elizabeth!”
I have read this entire thread with real joy! Thanks ladies! Best regards, Laura Upton
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