"I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles...all [James, Peter and John] asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." Paul, Letter to the Galatians
Fred, Ritish and I sat in Espresso Royale, on Daniel St., discussing myriad topics, but once we found ourselves hovering over the topic of poverty, we were unable to shake it. I had mentioned that I was interested in reading Jeffrey Sachs' The End of Poverty, and no more than it rolled off my tongue, did Ritish perk up and inform us that he was in the midst of finishing it himself. The three of us began talking about the life of Jesus and how he didn't miss a beat when it came to subverting the social order of his day in order to love the poor--the expendables, if you will. Check it out for yourself. Mark gives some amazing accounts of Jesus doing this. Here's just one example. Jesus' greatest commandment was to Love, yet how often do we miss that. In Christian culture, we can get so wrapped up in *insert act here* that we miss a huge lesson from Jesus' ministry on earth. He spent a great deal of time ministering to the needs and hurts of the poor, the forgotten, the expendables, the "sinners", in order to soften their hearts to the life transforming message that he would later give them: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me." (John 14:6) Wow. That's heavy. But you can bank on the fact that many of the "forgottens" believed his message, because his life backed it up. He was Humility, incarnate. He put others needs before his own. Ultimately, he gave much more than a cure for a bleeding disorder or leprosy or demon possession, he gave us a cure through the cross that will cure us from ourselves.
Before our conversation ended, I shared with Fred and Ritish how profoundly Paul's letter to the Galatians had impacted me just the day before. In it, he told them that Peter and the gang had reminded him that wherever he and Barnabas preached the Good News, they should remember one thing. Yes, one thing. "Remember the poor." As the three of us left the comfy couches of Espresso, no more than 2 minutes later I was facing the mirror. Long story short, Bruce, a homeless man (one of the many who frequent the busy streets of Campustown in Champaign) and I had a half hour conversation in Jimmy John's about the realities of alcholism, faith, losing your family, asking for money, needing a helping hand and church. It ended in prayer with such simple, sweet words uttered from his mouth, that I couldn't help but remember the prayer of the tax collector.
This reality, that is that the poor and hurting are all around us, has been on my mind more and more since I left South Africa two years ago. What are we to do? How do we respond to the fact that 34,000 children die daily from starvation and preventable diseases? I suppose it starts with one man or woman, boy or girl, at a time. It starts with one spring break, to give new hope and new beginnings through the shared love of Christ. See http://ilifeneworleans.blogspot.com to read more about Illini Life's week of work in New Orleans. I'm only just beginning to understand how this all fits into being a part of the Kingdom of God, but I think it's a start.
"The King (i.e. Jesus) will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:40)