Are we supposed to live among the poor?
Joby Mundackal challenges us to rethink our priorities on the concept of ‘poverty’ and to embrace Jesus’ attitude to the poor around us.
Aren’t we supposed to live among the poor? The question shook me to the core, putting me in a very uncomfortable position. In fact, the person who asked me this question is the head of a family who practices this in their life.
I was blessed to meet a family in our neighbourhood with seven children. When we first visited their home in 2011, my first impression was of visiting a poor family. Later, after years of interaction with them and through common friends, I realised that they are in fact an upper middle-class family in UK, who after a Christ-encounter chose to live in this poor urban area of Manchester, UK. While discussing the above uncomfortable question, they told me that their mission is ‘to be with the poor’. Theirs is not a neighbourhood anyone would willingly choose to buy a home. But they bought a house there, and later built a lathe with the intention of employing one youngster, who was then into drugs. Doing a business with the aim of employing one person! Later, although the business became financially unviable, over the years the youngster moved into other jobs and moved away from drugs. Having witnessed the self-giving love and faith of this family, I am sure one day he will encounter Christ and choose to become a Christian.
A second surprise was when they shared with us their baby sling. The product looked very good and was in immaculate condition and naturally, we enquired about the price. The mother of the house told us that they had bought this best quality item with the intention of sharing it with other families. I was surprised! Shopping for the best item with the sole aim of sharing it with others around!
The question each of us, as Jesus Youth has to ask is this – is our calling to have an option for the poor, or is our calling to be with the poor? And also, who exactly is the poor?
When Jesus was explaining the story of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan was one who chose to be with the poor. In fact, Jesus referred to the needy person as one’s neighbour. The poor is anyone who experiences poverty in material, spiritual, emotional or physical realms. A child who longs for the time and attention of his parent experiences poverty. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite were busy. So, busyness we realise is not a modern day problem. The Samaritan, even though he had work to do, changed his priorities and spent time with the man. He must have lost his other commitments along with the money he paid at the hospital. It was not an option for him but a priority. A change in attitude.
In the gospels we see a Jesus so full of compassion. He felt compassion before multiplying the bread. He was a Lord of compassion on seeing the sick. He even had compassion on the women on his way to Calvary. The woman caught in adultery was poor – but Christ became her saviour. In other words, being with the poor is bringing Christ to that person in the midst of some suffering.
How can we live among the poor.
When we are in our colleges/universities/work places, we may see someone who doesn’t have many friends or someone who is left out. By giving company to that person, we are actually bringing the presence of Christ to him/her. The same thing can happen during our travels. We often come across some uncool, lonely people in our journeys. By sitting next to them, or smiling at him/her, they feel wrapped in our loving embrace. In other words, being left alone is a kind of nakedness. By giving them company, we are indeed clothing them (Mt 25:35-40).
Don’t we often see some new faces in our churches? Or people who don’t have much company. Can we make an extra effort in sitting next to them and wrap them with the friendship of Christ? We may encounter people like this in parties, events, anywhere and everywhere, if we look around. By doing this, it might be that we may lose the comfort of our cool friendships. But by doing this, we might become an angel in someone’s lives.
In fact being with the poor is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of charity, kindness, goodness and gentleness are needed to make headway with this pillar of Jesus Youth. So, we realise that it is not our merit, but being docile to the Holy Spirit that we start producing these fruits. By practicing ‘being with the poor’ in little things, we would also one day be able to buy our houses and live in neighbourhoods with the poor. We are called to be the light and salt of the world. The success of our life is not in doing many things, but in being much to the people around us. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Let the attitude of Christ form in us, and we will be able to become another Christ in our neighbourhoods.