‘For the poor are shunned by their relatives – How much more do friends avoid them! Though the poor pursue them with pleading they are nowhere to be found’ (NIV)
If we took a four person family photo of our world today, it would look roughly like this; two people would have no access to clean water and probably wouldn’t be wearing shoes. One child would be severely malnourished. Three of these would be living on less than roughly £8 a day. And one person would be living in relative material comfort, just like you and me.
There is a great deal of hurt being inflicted on our brothers and sisters because of how imbalanced this picture is.
In the church, we seem to love talking about the family of God. It’s thrown around so often, that for me it became a catchphrase that sounded quite nice, but didn’t say much about my reality and how I treat this family. I think that’s why I was so taken aback by this Proverb. In my mind, I’ve always known that everyone in the world is a child of God, and a member of the family exactly the same as I am, but that didn’t seem very important. Inside the church and our own families, it’s easy for us to look around and acknowledge the people we see as family, and we’d find it hard to ignore someone in our midst crying out for help.
The passage in Proverbs describes the exact opposite of what it looks like to be family to each other. We aren’t detached and unfeeling towards our earthly families, so how much more should we care for each other in the family of God? What does it look like to be a part of this family with authenticity and more importantly with love like that which Jesus showed?
I think a part of the answer comes when we look at the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Rather than ignoring the less glamourous aspects of the people that he had spent the last three years of his ministry with, he served them in a way that was culturally outrageous, yet gave them real dignity. When they arrived for the meal, they were probably hot, dirty and uncomfortable. In washing their feet, Jesus brought them a basic yet profound sense of comfort. Could we find ways of doing that for each other? To reflect the kind of love, which Jesus has for all of us, bringing solace, cleansing and bringing dignity to everyone that it touches?
This is where the challenge lies when we, as Christians who are lucky to live in material security are confronted with the fact that we stand shoulder to shoulder in God’s family photo with those who live in extreme poverty. We can’t just flee from the unpleasantness of injustice and poverty, ignoring the cries for help that come from the desperation of others. This is far from God’s heart. Instead, I wonder if a place to start is to acknowledge and bless our family and bring the same kind of dignity Jesus brought, to those who have been robbed of it.
Jesus took on the posture of a servant and with gentleness blessed the disciples by meeting one of their most basic needs. I feel challenged to have a far more gentle approach to the poverty that I encounter. In a broader sense, I think we can serve everyone we meet in this way, because even those who appear to be materially affluent might be feeling incredibly spiritually poor. How easy it is it, in a world where half of our social lives exist online, to become isolated and starved of authentic relationship with other people? Too easy. Gentleness is a fruit of the spirit, and there is a place for it today.
I think God weeps at injustice, and we see in the Bible that he is violently opposed to the oppression of his children, and there is a righteous anger that we can and should share with him. When we are face to face with other people in God’s family who might be materially or spiritually poor, I wonder what would happen if we made a habit of taking on the gentle posture of a servant that Jesus did. Of coming alongside our brothers and sisters with gentleness and respect, we can start to give back some of what poverty has taken, rather than adding to the problem by ignoring and fleeing from those who suffer. In doing this we can create a culture in which we honour each other as members of the same family, learn from each other, and most importantly love each other as family should.