Monday, 2 December 2013

Meeting the needs of the needy

Not so long ago I had quite a challenging conversation which I'm still processing at this point in time. I'm hoping that by writing it down I can start to solidify the fluidity in my thinking. I reckon that’s how we work things out in life. We explore, we process and then we conclude only to be challenged again before too long.
Then we explore, process and conclude again. I have come to so many “conclusions” that with the passage of time have had to be processed again. I guess this is how we wrestle with the big questions and issues of life.

Each week as we brave the grocery store, I give my boys a challenge. They have $5 to spend on non-perishable food to go into the Food Bin at the Grocery Store. I started this not from some righteous act, but in reaction to the animal food bin that always seemed to have so much more than the 'human' food bin when I went there. It really peeved me, so I decided to teach my boys about giving, but with a bit of maths in there too. Once we have our family groceries, they take $5 and go back into the store together and shop and go through the checkout by themselves. Typical home school mother - take one pet peeve and turn it into a lesson on life skills, maths and giving.

This is not a bad thing. In fact it's just the opposite. I trust the organisation that distributes the food from the food bin. The point of challenge for me is this; it is a very easy, sanitized way of 'helping' the poor. I don't have any relationship with the person or people I am helping. This is exactly the challenge presented to me. Is this the way Jesus helped the poor?

This challenge followed closely on an article - a sex trade survivor story I read the week before. These topics sound polls apart don’t they? What has the sex trade got to do with the hungry? The quote in the first paragraph of this four-part article hit me in the herbs. 

"For too long, too many have allowed or expected the government to do the work of the church. Others, doggedly chasing partisan positions, have ignored the poor, the hungry, the orphan, and the abused. Like the Pharisees we tithed from our herbs but left weightier matters undone: justice, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23). (Marty Duren)"

The point I'm finally getting to is this. Giving the odd can of beans or soup is great and let’s keep doing that, but let’s not stop at that. We have been called to meet needs through means as diverse as counselling, budgeting, babysitting, phone calls, painting, paying of bills, fence building, furniture moving, baking, the list is endless. The big question is 'What are the needs?" and we can only answer this questions when we take the time to talk to those who have needs. It's a little more tricky today than it was in Jesus' day. Those with needs sat and begged at the temple gate. In western culture, having perfected the art of mask-wearing, we don't have many beggars in public view, so we can struggle to know the needs. We have to be a little more creative in how we ascertain what the needs are. 

Before having children I worked as a social worker in another city. I was working with those who were immersed in poverty and pain. It was not an easy job to say the least.  Now that I am a mother I have wanted to protect myself and my family from knowing this side of society in my local community. I have been very hesitant to get my hands dirty. Recently I have realise how wrong this thinking is. Self-protection of this kind isn't loving and it's not following Christ. 

Our family tithes because we have always been very committed to giving what we can. Tithing is a tricky issue, one that people aren't too keen to discuss. We all know it's impolite to discuss religion, politics or money so I'm clearly high on the Richter scale of rudeness here, although you’ll be pleased to know I'm not too interested in chatting about politics of any sort!!! Tithing of course is an Old Testament instruction where a person were to give a mandatory 10% whereas in the New Testament the emphasis is on giving from the heart, to meet needs in response to God’s great gift to us.

 "Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have." 2 Cor 8:11-12

 If you are not convinced, then I implore you to study it for yourself. Luke 21:1-4 is a good one for perspective. Are tithes and donations enough or should we be donning an apron and serving as well as giving. Money can do great things to support communities, but they don't build individual relationships. What builds relationships however is time. I wonder if the expending of time is the one thing that we are not very willing to be so generous about!!

I'm just thinking out loud here.  Do you ever wonder why Jesus didn't just speak the word and give the blind man his sight? Instead He spit in the dirt and made a muddy paste that got all over his hands and under his fingernails ... Jesus got his hands dirty, willingly.  You know, I don't ever recall reading a story in the Bible of Jesus giving anyone money. He did however feed many people by blessing the meal and breaking the bread as He served the people through His disciples. He was never a disinterested bystander but one so very willing to get involved in meeting the needs of the needy.

We are going to keep up our $5 challenge and the tithe in our family. I guess I'm just thinking 'what more can I do?' and 'why is it so hard to comprehend the real need?'

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