Scriptures do require us to support the needy, not treat giving as favour
By Edward Buri
| Aug 29th 2021 | 5 min read
When hosting global events, we move street families from our cities because we want to make a tidy impression. These families stand in the way of the show we would want to display. When they are moved we comment on just how beautiful the streets are. The dirt is swept. When we see them encroaching back, we say how bad it is now that the hazard is returning.
Jesus in Matthew opens a window into the future by bringing into view Judgement Day. Of interest is that the basis of the judgement is not what people did to those who have, but to those who did not have. Our homage culture tutors us to reprimand those who fail to give gifts to prominent members of the community. But for the Judgement Day, the scales were labelled, “hungry”, “thirsty”, “stranger”, “naked”, “sick” and “prisoner.”
Of religious hot topics, Judgement Day does not feature maybe because no one is certain how it will go. Even for the most spiritual amongst us overconfidence does not apply. An aspect of the day stands out: the critical place the nature of our neighbourliness plays in informing the judge’s pronouncement “to the left” or “to the right”.
It matters how we respond to the needy when they come our way; how we champion the rights of the weak during our tenure; how we lift the poor during our term in office; how we share our windfalls and bumper harvests with the weak; how we invest our gifts and talents to improve the lowly. These are works that structurally are evidence of faith.
Generosity should not be discriminative. Class, status or tribe should not be the lighthouses to kindness. We stratify those worthy of our kindness, indifference and crudeness. But we are not called to stay only in the circle of the strong. We must venture with intensity into the circle of the weak. If you be found in the circle of the strong, be there as an ambassador for the weak. Godliness means loving all. This love part of the godly constitution is not amendable.
It matters to God that people do not have good clothes; are hungry; are in prison; are thirsty, are estranged; are in hospital. It matters to God that many are grieving, and are hungry for comfort. Saving souls from hell must go in hand in hand with saving them from hellish earthly systems.
Society has taught us that helping the weak is charity - an occasional activity, especially at particular times of the year. Helping others is promoted as something we do with the money we have to spare. Others do it to tick the box and soothe our “merciful” side. Some organisations do it for the purpose of writing their report on social responsibility. But helping the weak must not be pushed to the corners of mere charity. If we desire a good life, if we have a vision for a good world, supporting the “least of these” must be a core, intentional and continuous preoccupation.
When someone joins a congregation they should not just join the rolls of admission. Critically, they join the scroll of compassion. There are more than enough opportunities for good works to engage everyone – for a lifetime. There are enough differences in the world for each to make one.
Just like water is most appreciated by the desert sand, love is clearest when expressed to the unloved. Almost all of the time Jesus talked about the neighbour, it was neither your best friend nor your favourite relative. It was almost always someone you hated, or someone who despised you, or someone in severe need that would cost quite a bit to attend to. The more we restrict our love to only the ones who love us, those who appear decent to us; the more blurred, the more disfigured love becomes.
We in Kenya are in a season where the platform of political success is increasingly the “coalition”. It is common practice that when we want to partner with someone, we partner with the strong. The more a party is able to bring to the table, the more it is courted. The bigger the boost a party will grant to the union, the more the wooing songs. Acceptability is based on profitability.
Scriptures point our purpose and our partnerships in a different direction. Jesus comes along with a strange coalition of six unappealing parties: The Naked Party; The Hungry Party; The Prisoners Party; The Thirsty Party; The Strangers Party and The Sick Party.
Most people would rather rub shoulders with the blingy and the who-is-who. But Jesus made his home amongst the weak. He partnered with the rejected and camped with the least. Unlike the coalition where acceptability is based on profitability, in the world of Jesus acceptability is based on inability; acceptability is premised on susceptibility.
Some thought the winning coalition cannot be amongst the naked, so they never clothed them. They reasoned it was not worth investing amongst the thirsty, so they took their water elsewhere. They thought that a prison could not be a place of much worth, so they blotted it out from their map of interests. They heard that someone was sick and they said, “Too bad,” and moved their minds to engage more healthy things. By their perception those were non-starter zones. But to God, those were the oil wells. The result was that where it really counted their investments missed the mark. They had done and achieved a lot but not in the places that infinitely matter. As ridiculous as it may seem; unlikely as the victory may look, scriptures illumine us to put our vote where the weak are.
If you ultimately desire to keep “to the right”, the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and prisoner should form your winning coalition.
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