This week we explore a question that comes from a Walton County friend who shall remain anonymous. She shares a familiar story and asks a tough question: "Monday morning I was sitting at a light downtown. A man came up to me on the passenger side and asked if I could help him get something to eat. I said, No, I'm sorry but I only have a dollar,' the light changed and I drove off. The minute I got through the light the horrible sinking feeling hit. I talked to a friend who said . . . we can't feed the world . . . it's not up to you. But this man may have been truly hungry and I didn't give it a thought until it was too late. I've listened to ministers say how we're supposed to take care of others, try and mirror Jesus' actions, and on and on. But in private I hear we can't do that . . . let them get jobs. . . . If we're supposed to be Christians that is, Christ followers tell me, what would Jesus do in circumstances like these in times like these and what should we do?"
Tough question one we would rather skirt and hmm and hah about. But in reality, trying to determine what Jesus would do in any circumstances is at best presumptuous. It would be simple to say, "Jesus met all the needs of everyone he met," which is of course the traditional view and the implication throughout the gospels. However, let us not forget that Jesus spent a good part of his ministry trying to escape the crowds so he could take care of himself both physically and spiritually (Matthew 5.1, 8.18; Mark 6.31-32; Luke 5.15-16). Thus he limited the number of those he met who were in need . Although it may be fruitless to speculate as to why he attempted to escape the crowds, it certainly could be construed that his personal resources were finite and he could only meet a finite number of peoples' needs.
On the other hand, we can review what Jesus said to those who would be his followers and apply these teachings to the question, "What shall we do?"
From the earliest teachings in the Judeo-Christian traditions we are taught that we are indeed "our brother's keeper" (Genesis 4.9). Religious leaders have long strived to more narrowly define who our "brothers" are and in ancient Israel it is clear the commands of justice and mercy were more appropriately granted to fellow Israelites than to those outside of the tribes (cf. Deut 23.19-20). But just as it got easy to know who one was really responsible for, enter Jesus. Jesus redefined who our brothers, sisters, and neighbors are. They aren't just those who are kin or even those who have earned the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. They're the hookers and the thieves and the lepers (or HIV+ folk) of society. They're the Roman occupiers and oppressors of the nation and our government officials. They're you and they're me and they're all living souls.
And how did Jesus say his followers should treat these people? "But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt" (Luke 6.27-29).
Unfortunately, at least in the eyes of society, Jesus didn't give his followers any real outs. We're not allowed to dismiss those about us who are in need with a shrug. Yes, in the words of Jesus, "You always have the poor with you" (Matthew 26.11), but we as the followers of Christ are charged to do something about them. We're not allowed to ignore, instead we are called to open our eyes, our hearts, and even our pocketbooks and do something even if it's only our last two pennies (Mark 12.42-44).
Christians are called to be radical, to do those things that don't seem sensible and don't match society's norm nor morals. Instead, in the words of Christ, "Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again" (Luke 6.30). Go and do likewise.