Sometimes when I’m reading the Bible a word or verse or phrase touches me deeply and I just sit there and sob. This is one of those moments:
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. James 2:5-6a
Maybe it’s because I’m reading books about those in deep poverty (see our Recommended Reading List). It might be reaching a stage in life where experiences have finally added up to move me in the direction God had planned all along.
One thing I know for sure: God cares deeply about those the world wants to discard. The more I come to understand this, the more I am moved to do something to break down barriers erected by society in response to irrational fears. But before I jump on that soapbox, let’s consider the verse above and back up to appreciate the context.
The first half of chapter 2 falls under the heading of Favoritism Forbidden in my NIV Study Bible. James paints a picture of a meeting where some arrive wearing gold and fine clothes versus others who arrive in filthy, worn-out attire. The former is greeted graciously while the latter is utterly disregarded; all based on outward appearances. He goes on to remind us that you must love our neighbor as yourself or you are guilty of showing favoritism. This is a careless sin.
Father Gregory Boyle has 30+ years serving those who society would prefer to launch on a one-way ticket to anywhere. In an interview, I found a quote that is one of his consistent themes:
So you learn something from the poor. The poor radicalized you, the poor evangelize you, you know. So I found myself, I kind of turned inside out and upside down. So, when I got to this parish and very new young priest, I already knew what it was like to let people be your trustworthy guides to somehow lead you, the widow, orphan, and the strangers, what the Old Testament calls it. God sort of picks these three because God thinks these are the folks who know what it’s like to have been cut off. Because they’ve suffered in that particular way, I believe that God thinks they’re the trustworthy guide. So they’re leading me to something. I’m not leading them to some place.1
This is the persistent theme of Barking to the Choir. More than just inspiring stories, Fr. Greg wants us to take this to heart, to move us deep inside.
Last week, I had the opportunity to have dinner with someone that many would place in the second group of James’ meeting parable, that is, someone who is poor by society’s standard. I didn’t want to have dinner out of pity, I truly wanted to learn from my friend. What I found in that brief discussion is that I have a lot to learn. I had the privilege of listening to someone who cares deeply for the concern of others regardless of circumstance or motivation.
They just need a place to sleep! I don’t care what they’ve done, but they shouldn’t have to sleep in the woods and beg for food.
What a novel idea.
Of course, the solution is complicated and confounded by drugs, alcohol, and illicit activity, but that doesn’t give us permission to ignore those who endure basic needs for survival. It’s no wonder that mental health is a major issue.
One last thought as we ponder James’ words: he was the brother of Jesus. He grew up with the Savior and didn’t recognize Him for many years. My guess is this discovery fueled his passion for telling others about Christ, but even more, it drove him to tell us to go and do something about our new found faith.
Today, as you sit and chat with someone who might not ever grace the steps of a church, let alone wear a coat and tie, may I suggest one thing: listen. When you do, I hope you’re man or woman enough to sit somewhere and sob; brokenhearted for the least, the lost and the lonely.