Rich in Poverty

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. – Matthew 26:11

We all know who the poor are. It's obvious. We see them every day. Many of us actually fit the bill for being poor.

This passage from Matthew's Gospel is a troubling one. The context is the story of Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, breaking open an expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus' feet. The disciples grumbled saying, "This was expensive perfume. Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus, though, saw things a bit differently. Mary was in poverty. She probably spent all she had to purchase the perfume so she could anoint Jesus' feet with it. In the kingdom of God, there is nothing more precious, more valuable, than the full self giving of oneself, in love, to God. Remember the time Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving their tithes? They saw both rich and poor giving money, but it was of the poor woman who gave all she had that Jesus said, "This woman has given more than anyone else. They gave out of their wealth, but she has given out of her poverty." The same principle applies here with Mary. Not only would it have been cruel to take the heart offered gift from Mary and give it to someone else, but it would be an insult to her poverty and sincerity in her self giving.

Jesus did not take what she did lightly. He was not glorifying in himself. Rather, he showed the utmost humility in receiving from a woman in poverty. He was not above her. He did not set himself as superior to her and her gift. He graciously received it.

The "poor" in the original quote are not merely those of financial poverty, but anyone who is in great need. Whether it be ignorance, addiction, entitlement, or whatever, these are people who are in deep and desperate need. We often think of them as victims of their own foolishness. And perhaps they are, but that does not eliminate their present situation.

As Christians, we are to condemn NO ONE. We are to love all. We are to pray for our enemies (and not in the sense of asking God to 'get them' or 'make them like us'), bless those who curse us and give sustenance to any who are in need of it.

The world is full of poverty of all sorts. We have not been called to eradicate it, as it will never happen, but we are called to love, to feed, to give.

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Being Good and Doing Good

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God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good – Acts 10:38

5560077We spend much of our time attempting to be good people, at least those who are conscientious about their morality and ethics. As westerners, it has been warp and woof of our existence for centuries to place being good *prior* to doing good. We are fallen creatures, we are told. We cannot do good, it is said. Many of us have had it drilled into us that even if we try to be good, “all our righteousness are as filthy rags” in God’s sight.

Upon conversion to Christ, we are told the next step is to pursue holiness. This, we are told, is sanctification. Thousands upon thousands of books and other literature have been written on the topic; many of which attempt to assist the reader in their life long goal of becoming a good and holy person. The general gist of what sanctification is, according to the literature, is the transformation of the inner man to desire and will what God wishes for us. It is a difficult and often frustrating task, but one we cannot afford to avoid, if we are really in earnest about knowing God.

Millions of Christians have followed this path through the centuries and there is a rich spiritual tradition that has developed because of it. Various ascetic practices, some mild, some more severe, are often advocated as means to the desired end. After all, did not St Paul say we are to bring our bodies into submission? And is not the flesh the source, the effective cause for all of our sin? The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

All of this is to say that Christians, in seeking sanctification, are an inward reaching people. Yet, how does that square with the life of Jesus, of whom it is said, he went about DOING good to other people? How can we do good if we are NOT good? Don’t we have to achieve or attain at least some measure of sanctification before we can start doing good?

Apparently not. Jesus gave no instructions for developing the inner life, but he did tell his followers to love one another. And, by his example, he did good to and for all. Jesus describes what he asks of us this way:

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

How does that fit with the whole message of sanctification; that it’s a long difficult road? Jesus says it’s easy to follow him.

Here are my thoughts.

I believe it is quite wrong to pursue sanctification as has been traditionally done. The whole idea that we are an inward turned people is contrary to the gospel which specifically tells us to be outward reaching people, doing good and loving one another.

Doing good is easy. It simply means loving your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How hard is that?

Oh, yes, we often don’t WANT to do good to our neighbor. Well, in that case we are not in earnest about following Jesus. If that’s how you choose to live, fine, but don’t call yourself a Jesus follower, please.

We need not be good people to do the right thing. After all, as Jesus tells us, there is none good but God. We can do good quite easily enough if we want. The desire to do good and BE good together, counts as if it is already so.

We must remember that sanctification is the work of the Spirit, not our own work. We do not become good by turning inward to work on our “inner man”, but we become good by looking outward, first at Jesus and second at our neighbor to attend to his needs. As we go about doing good like Jesus did, the Holy Spirit works within us to change us. As we do good we become good; slowly but gradually.

As things are now, the West is infatuated with being good. Both liberals and conservatives operate on this principle. Of course, they have different interests and agendas, but the mechanics are the same. The net result is an inability to do good, to pursue the right, to see social justice met because we are unable to turn our attention away from ourselves and see the broken world around us and which needs our attention. We strive in vain to fix ourselves when it is our neighbor who needs our help and love.

We are so caught up in do’s and don’ts, so enmeshed in feeling right, or pursuing our personal goals that we cannot see the plain and simple issues of humanity that surround us. Fixing the world is easy, getting ourselves out of ourselves is not.

So, remember, the whole Law is summed up in these two commands: Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. Everything, literally, hangs on those two commands. Reach out side of yourself, help those around you who have needs. Do a little each day and at length you will find you have begun to experience that peace which passes all understanding. You will not be worried about heaven or hell. You will not fret about your neighbor who doesn’t see eye to eye with you. Everything will begin to fall into place. Sanctification will come through the work of the Spirit as YOU set out to go about doing good as Jesus did.