by Linda Ryan
I had to clean the debris out of my purse again recently. It seems to get cluttered up with bits of paper, essentials like my iPod, Kindle and cell phone, pens, ChapSticks and just about anything else that will fit in there. In the process, I ran across a small printed piece of paper that’s been in there for who knows how long. I have no idea where I got it, but there it was.
I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. Thank you.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me about the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
Christian, you seem so holy; so close to God But I’m still very hungry, and lonely, and cold…
John Stott wrote this based on a passage from Matthew 25, and it almost defies the reader to ignore it. Now, when it seems that the safety nets of the poorest and neediest of our citizens are being swiftly cut it seems more applicable than ever. What in the world are we doing?
Some insist we are a “Christian” nation but how can we be if we ignore the very people Jesus spoke about the most – the poor, the ill, the widows and orphans? How can we claim it if we enable the rich to get richer while the poor only get poorer? Whether we are Christian, a member of some other religion or no religion at all, we all bear a share of the blame.
The health of our nation depends on the health of its people, and our score right now is low and getting lower. Cuts to education, the elderly, the working poor, the children and the marginalized are weakening us on many fronts. Involvement in wars in other countries doesn’t win us many friends abroad as we penalize the soldiers and veterans who do the fighting by cutting their housing, training and benefits which doesn’t win us many friends at home. Our children are less able to excel in the world education standings and our old people are treated almost like freeloaders and nuisances. The homeless are almost invisible, even as they lie on the sidewalks and park benches. Who cares? Obviously not big business or even our own elected officials.
Matthew records Jesus’ words about the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned and the marginalized but he also recorded something that should be uppermost in the minds of any Christian, “Whatever you did to the members of my family, you did it to me.” Of course, the ones who ignored those same people received the opposite message and a condemnation. It seems we pick and choose which instructions from Jesus we want to follow and too often the ones we look at are the ones that line up with our personal wants and desires.
Some preachers preach against the “social gospel,” preferring to encourage the “name it and claim it” or “prosperity gospel” instead. They put the focus on “I/me/mine” rather than “ours.” There are also some politicians who seem to put the prosperity gospel ahead of the social one when they hang on to the benefits they receive as elected officials while cutting the possibility of those same kinds of benefits for others. Christianity, whether preached by ministers or practiced by politicians, isn’t about “I/me/mine,” just as Christianity practiced by so many ordinary folks. Jesus didn’t restrict his teachings or his healings to people who voted for him, gave him big campaign contributions, practiced Judaism or even were from his own family or town.
I wonder what Jesus would say if he walked around our country today? He’d probably thank us for our prayers for the poor and suffering but ask what were we actually doing to fix the problem. He’d probably want to disown the lot of us because we’re all part of the problem unless we’re part of the solution. That being part of the solution is the tricky part, though. It means giving up some of the “I/me/mine” and handing it out to the “them,” in short, making the “I” “us.”
It occurs to me that I have a responsibility to do something, anything that can make even the smallest difference. The epiphany produced by Stott’s words need to have an action to complete it. What am I willing to do about the problem? And what are others willing to do in turn? Our future hangs in the balance. And Jesus is watching.