I’m going to be blunt. Sometimes its very hard for me to care about poor people. It’s harder to care, and let my own feeling of powerlessness and ineptitude overwhelm me, than it is to just harden my heart to what others suffer. Now, you’d think being a student of ‘social justice’, I would have a better skill set for dealing with this problem. I don’t. The program I am currently in has done an excellent job of pointing out, in excruciating detail, all the ways in which our world is going to hell in a hand-basket. However, remarkably little has been done to give us some kind of…crash helmet, for lack of a better term, which we can use to brace ourselves for the impact of just how much suffering and injustice exists in the world. Sometimes the only way I can survive the heartbreak is to just ignore it.
For a while.
The thing is, God doesn’t usually let me get away with this for very long. This time it’s been a few months.
I’m not sure if it is related to the increased graces resulting from my recent marriage, or if it is the fruits of a genuine desire for communion with God, but the current hardness of my heart is starting to crack, just a little bit. It came in the form of Scripture last night, and a song this morning.
“Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost. Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?…
“For just as from the heavens rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful…so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth, my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
-Isaiah 55: 1-11
And then this song, as I was walking downtown to buy my textbooks for this semester:
O All who thirst, let them come to the water.
And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord: without money, without price.
Why should you pay the price, except for the Lord?
And let all who seek, let them come to the water.
And let all who have nothing,let them come to the Lord:
without money, without strife. Why should you spend your life, except for the Lord?
And let all who toil, let them come to the water.
And let all who are weary, let them come to the Lord: all who labor, without rest. How can your soul find rest, except for the Lord?
And let all the poor, let them come to the water,
bring the children without might. Easy the load and light: come to the Lord.
-Matt Maher ‘Come to the Water’
I had what I can only call a ‘duh’ moment. I was listening, really listening, to the words of Mr. Maher’s song, and it hit me: I need to care about poor people, regardless of what it costs me, because that’s what God does. If the example of Christ taught us nothing else, its that we are supposed to do what God does, to the best of our limited ability. God doesn’t just care about poor people when its convenient; He doesn’t invite them to the table or share a meal with them ‘if there’s anything left over after paying bills this month’.
Mr. Maher employs some poetic license with the verses from Isaiah, but look at who God calls to the ‘water’ -presumably not the community watering hole, but rather, eternal life –
those who are thirsty, those who have nothing, those who seek, those who are weary, those who labor without rest, the poor, those who are laden.
It seems so clear now, it’s all of us. Anyone who doesn’t have their stuff together. Whoever is not A-ok. In other words, everyone. Maybe me first.
There are many ways to be poor; material poverty, which is a result of so many of society’s sinful structures to be sure, and spiritual poverty, which is much more prevalent here in our country. This is the notion that the soul, the very life of the Spirit in us can be satisfied with anything other than union with the One who created us.
I may not now (or ever) suffer from material poverty, and I am obligated to care for those brothers and sisters who do. Not only to care for them, but to work with them for their release from the sinful structures that keep them materially poor. But more than that, I see that I need to not only care for everyone I meet, but I must allow them to care for me, allow them to help me ‘come to the water’, because we are all poor. I am so very poor.
Pray God will continue to bless me by breaking my heart of stone. Oh yeah, and if He could send a crash-helmet, that would help too.