Tending the Poor
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink … I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
“But I need to help the poor,” I said to my spiritual director.
“You should listen to that quiet voice telling you to tend that horse you told me about.”
He was right. Horses have been ministering angels in the wake of intense grief. I have loved them since I was a baby. Besides, I would have been crushed by helping the poor during those years.
While Jesus’ words terrify me, being spent terrifies me more. I once heard J. Eric Gentry speak about burn out. “We need to be careful of giving away all our time, our energy because we can lose our marriages, we can lose our values, become alcoholics when we are so over tired we can’t think straight. We can’t recover.”
God has called us to being spent: “but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3b–4). But sometimes you just can’t.
In Let Your Life Speak, Parker J. Palmer says,
We learn we need not carry the whole load but can share it with others, liberating us and empowering them. We learn that sometimes we are free to lay the load down altogether. The great community asks us to do only as we are able and trust the rest to other hands.
I don’t know if I’ll ever visit someone in prison, but I can encourage my friend who visits her brother in jail. I don’t know if I’ll ever walk inside an inner-city school, but my former student Randiss Hopkins does through his The Remember Project.
Maybe that’s what Jesus meant. Maybe there is an economy in the kingdom that multiplies the little good we can do like Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes and fed upwards of five thousand people. Maybe we feed each other, give cups of water, visit the sick and the prisoner because we are part of a community. Maybe Jesus never meant for us to merely try this on our own.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What are your thoughts about Jesus saying that if we don’t help others, we could be cast into outer darkness? How do you balance your need for self care with tending others’ needs? How does your community help?
PRAYER: Lord, have mercy on us, who are so easily spent. Help us to know the power of your body working together to feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the prisoner. Open our eyes so that we see you in the people who need us. Amen.