“Are there no workhouses?”: On not being a Scrooge

Christ_ministering

Homeless, homeless like the Christ-child was.

Homeless, homeless, but there is hope because

He came down to earth to lead us

He vowed he’d never leave us

Homeless, homeless, for in his love there is a home[1].

This beautiful song in Michael McLean’s The Forgotten Carols always brings me to pondering.  It challenges how we view those who for whatever reason are without a home.  It humanizes them, and it makes me realize that I am no different from them.  We use the terms “brother” and “sister” at church, but do we truly believe that these too are our brothers and sisters?  Too often I think we do not.

Homelessness made the headlines again in these past few weeks, and not all of it was good.  I first read the article in the Salt Lake Tribune detailing the loud and negative response to a proposed homeless shelter by the residents of Draper[2].  Citing criminal activity and drug use in downtown Salt Lake City, residents threatened impeaching the major for suggesting such action and booed a homeless man off the stage as he was pleading for patience and compassion.

On a more positive note, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints released a statement asking for us all to take homelessness more seriously:

Homelessness is a tragic condition that afflicts individuals, and even families in many places, including Utah.  The causes are varied, and solutions are often difficult, but whether homelessness stems from conflict, poverty, mental illness, addition or other sources, our response to those in need defines us as individuals and communities[3].

I was so grateful that the Brethren chose to direct our attention to this.  While it doesn’t have the climb-and-a-wall-and-cry-repentance vibe, in many respects I believe it is an invitation for personal and community repentance.  If this is how we as Utahns respond to the needs of the homeless, how does that define us as a community?

Are We Not All Beggars?

This call to repentance isn’t new.  Elder Holland posed a question in conference in 2014 that caused me similar self-reflection:

For one thing, we can, as King Benjamin taught, cease withholding our means because we see the poor as having brought their misery upon themselves.  Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing?  Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, “Are we not all beggars?” Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and trouble we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice at least in our case? Little wonder that King Benjamin says we obtain a remission of our sins by pleading to God, who compassionately responds, but we retain a remission of our sins by compassionately responding to the poor who plead to us[4].

Only by caring for the poor and needy can we retain a remission of our sins.  That is a weighty assertion, and one that perhaps we would do well to remember.

Conference Answers

This past General Conference, Elder Palmer, a member of the Seventy, told the story of the rich young man as found in Mark[5]:

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.  Thou knowest the commandments.  Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

And he was sad at the saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

He pointed out this unique aspect that he learned and applied as a mission president: Jesus beheld the young man and loved him.  He wanted to learn to behold each of the missionaries over whom he presided so that they could feel his love and desire to change.  I loved this concept of beholding that is such a part of the Savior.  The people Jesus taught could feel his love, and it inspired them to change and to become better.

But our ability to develop such love will always be limited if we only allow ourselves to love those who are loveable, or people we already get along with, understand, and have a common background.  Learning to love our families, our wards, and our colleagues perhaps is hard in itself.  But what about the man standing on the street corner with a sign with the words “God bless,” the woman with a small can asking for any spare change—or even the ones that defy our sensibilities with signs like “I’m an alien and I need money to rebuild my space ship” or “I’m not going to lie—I’m just going to buy beer with it.”  Can we behold them as well?

Christ as an Example

As Jesus travelled, he often used moments of ministering to teach his disciples, in a gentle way helping them learn to love. In one case, his disciples were speculating what a blind man must have done to have been punished with his blindness:

And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

Do we also need reminding that the blind, the sick, the hungry, are here that through them, God performs his greatest work?

Christ_blind

In another example, the disciples hurriedly push children away who they think are coming too close to Jesus and will cause trouble:

Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked themBut Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Do we need reminding that all are children of God and are worth our time and attention?

Christ_children

Finally, a woman suffering from a debilitating disease had spent all her money on doctors trying to find a cure.  When she exercised faith and touched his robe, the Lord responded:

And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?  And his disciples saith unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?

And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing.  But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.  And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.

Do we need reminding that the throng surrounding us is made up of individuals each with hopes and needs and the capacity to exercise faith?

Christ_touched

Our Eye of the Needle

Elder Palmer didn’t focus on the answer Jesus gave the rich young man, but I want to draw your attention to it.  Even if you aren’t a millionaire, this message probably applies to you in some degree.  I’m a graduate student trying to make ends meet, fearing that I’ll be unable to pay next month’s rent, but I am very privileged to even be able to attend school and get an income for doing so.  We all can learn from this lesson:

And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?

And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

I have always found this scripture difficult—probably because I am lacking the same things as the rich young man.  Are we supposed to take this literally? Will I have to give up all my possessions to obtain the kingdom of God?  The standard answer in Sunday School is that we must be willing to give them up if we had to.  But I feel that the answer is more immediate than that.

Why is it so difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God?  I thought of two reasons.

First, our riches cause us to “other” other people, particularly the poor.  We fail to see them as people when they ask us for help.  We focus on their outward appearance, we hold their motives suspect, and we lose our ability to feel love.

Second, we become tied down to our possessions, which lessens or completely removes our ability to focus on others.  When we are worried about retirement plans, investments, house, car, and all the rest, others become secondary.  Perhaps that is why Jesus’s disciples travelled without purse or scrip.

 

Let us find what each of us can do in our own way to blessings the poor, like Christ was.  If we aren’t consciously striving to lift and to love, we may begin to sound like Scrooge’s pre-repentant “Are there no workhouses?

Notes

  1. I wasn’t able to weave this in effectively, but I was also thinking of the exchange Christ had with Judas in Bethany:Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot…, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?

    Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

    This is fits in so much.  I was thinking about this last phrase though, “For the poor always ye have with you.”  Christ was in no way dismissing the needs of the poor.  He had spent his entire ministry seeking to aid them.  I took this phrase as a constant commandment for us as his disciples.  We will always have the poor among us.  It doesn’t matter how good our charities are, how much the government gives, or how much money your ward has in fast offerings.  We will always be responsible for ministering to the poor.

  2. Here’s a video from the School of Life I found particularly insightful on how assumptions in a meritocratic society cause us to look down on the poor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTDGdKaMDhQ&index=53&list=PLwxNMb28XmpehnfQOa4c0E7j3GIj4qFEj
  3. This isn’t about politics, promise.  My wife shared this article this week.  Again, it challenges your assumptions about the poor: “6 Things Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand About Poverty (But I Didn’t, Either) http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/6-things-paul-ryan-doesnt-understand-about-poverty-i-didnt-either

Sources

[1] Michael McLean, The Forgotten Carols.

[2] Taylor W. Anderson, “Draper pull shelter sites after hundred protest, boo homeless man,” Salt Lake Tribune. http://www.sltrib.com/news/5116759-155/draper-pulls-shelter-sites-after-hundreds.

[3] Mormon News Room, “Responding to the Needs of the Homeless in Our Communities.”

[4] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Are We Not All Beggars?” October 2014. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/are-we-not-all-beggars?lang=eng

[5] S. Mark Palmer, “Then Jesus Beholding Him Loved Him,” April 2017. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/04/then-jesus-beholding-him-loved-him?lang=eng

 

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