A few years ago when I was working for Child Protective Services, I noticed that when children came into foster care, social workers like me would help them pack all their worldly belongings into a trash bag to be taken to their new foster family. After a few times of noticing the horrible metaphor this presented, we appealed to the students at UGA and took in donations of luggage for months. It made me so happy to give a child something nice as they embarked on the most horrendous of journeys. I don't know that it made any difference, but I never heard another nine-year-old say that his life was 'in that black trash bag over there'.
Fast forward 4 years. Every morning I pass a homeless shelter on a side street on the way to the gym. It is usually about 5:50 am and the clients are starting to leave, as the shelter requires them to leave at 6 am. There is a stop light here so I usually am on the road as they cross the street to walk to wherever they are going for the day. Typically, I am at this stoplight making sure my car doors are locked and watching everyone around me for any reasons to run that red light.
Today was different. I saw a man lugging two black trash bags into a van that will take him to a day center or a job training. Because I know this shelter and know people cannot store their belongings there, I know he was lugging all he owned in those two ragged plastic bags. And for once I wasn't worrying about the locked doors. I was thinking about how there is a very good chance that that man was once a 12-year-old foster child with smaller black bags. I was hit with such a guilt and awareness. Poverty doesn't happen with one or two bad choices. It is usually generations old, muddled with abuse, addiction, unemployment, illness.
I thought of something I've heard many times. Very well-meaning, good people will say, 'I work very hard for my money. I made the right choices, got an education. Why should I have to pay for someone who consistently makes the wrong choices?' This is such a legitimate question, one for which I rarely have a good answer. My initial response is to say that most of us with a college education and decent financial situation were given a damned good start by parents who kept on us about our grades, who expected college from us, who gave us $20 when we needed it. But inevitably someone would say that they 'pulled themselves up by their bootstraps' (HATE THAT PHRASE) . So my first argument doesn't hold enough water for some. As I was walking past Starbucks on the way into the gym, I remembered the very dusty bible on my floorboard (where it's been for a minute- or 10,000).
WWJS? What would Jesus say to the question, why should I give my very hard earned money to someone who doesn't want to work (or to a woman raising her children alone, or to an elderly man with AIDS who did work before he got sick- note : 60 % of those below the poverty line actually WORK!-see http://www.prosperousathens.org/poverty/index.html. But for argument's sake, what about giving my money to some drug using homeless man who has never worked? So I got my workout and treated myself to a blueberry muffin at that same Starbucks, grabbed the dusty Bible from the floorboard, and looked at what Scripture had to say about this issue. *confession: I considered googling scripture on poverty to learn but then figured it wouldn't totally KILL me to OPEN my bible. So I did.
And as my friend Robin in JustFaith suggested, I started in Matthew 25. Jesus HIMSELF says:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 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.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
They say you don't realize you're thirsty until you take a drink. Well, after opening this greatest of books, I realized how thirsty I was for the guidance and knowledge I want. So I kept going.
Deuteronomy 15:4 "However there should be no poor among you. If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is GIVING to you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your brother. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. **God GIVES us what we have, or the abilities to obtain us. What we have BELONGS to GOD**
Psalm 68:10 "From YOUR bounty, O God, you provided for the poor **ergo- if GOD provided for the poor from HIS bounty, shouldn't I do it from mine??**
Psalm 82:3 "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of wicked.
And similarly Proverbs 31:9- "speak up and judge fairly. Defend the reights of the poor and needy"
So I got my answer (which Robin gave me Tuesday night). Why should we share what we have diligently, painstakingly and sacrificially obtained? Simple. To quote my mom's favorite line when we were kids "BECAUSE I (JESUS) SAID SO!
Here's to hoping I can listen to Jesus better than I listend to mom...
Peace~ A picture of the Peachtree and Pine shelter that I see each day...
In honor of Mom~I may not have EVER listened when she said to do something because she said so, but she still manages to love me~