Every few days now I’m posting five passages that have jumped out at me as I make my way through Sirach (aka: Ecclesiasticus) this time. Here’s the next installment. Read and consider.
Let those who are at peace with you be many, but let only one in a thousand be your advisor. (Sirach 6.6)
“Don’t seek political power from the Lord or a seat of honor from the king.” (Sirach 7.4)
“Don’t be timid in your prayer, and don’t neglect caring for those in need.” (Sirach 7.10)
“Don’t make fun of the uneducated, or your ancestors might be insulted.” (Sirach 8.4)
“Turn your eye away from a shapely woman, and don’t stare at beauty belonging to someone else.” (Sirach 9.8a)
Don’t lump everyone into one pile. That is, don’t allow your mind to become darkened toward those in need. Yes, some people are merely scam artists (who may actually be poor, too), but a great many are genuinely in need. Consequently, when you deal with someone who claims to be in need, don’t act like you have all the pieces to the puzzle or even the picture on the puzzle box to work with, for you don’t. You simply don’t know all that is regarding the person with whom you’re dealing. Truly, even what you think you do know about them can be only partially true, for appearances can be deceiving. So why not default toward the merciful, not the judgmental. Bless the needy by refusing to judge.
Don’t make degrading remarks about those in poverty or laugh at the jokes made by others regarding them. Go further: grow to consider the “subtle” slights or insinuations as the most vile of things. After all, how would you want people to see you if you were in their shoes? Try this: when you encounter the poor, consider that you’re meeting Jesus. Our Lord had nowhere to lay his head and had no change of clothes. Truly, the way you treat the poor says everything about the way you respect the God of rich and poor alike. Give the poor you encounter your respect, whether they’re present at the moment or not.
Don’t believe everything you hear and question what you think you know. When it comes to the world of misinformation, misunderstanding of poverty and the poor surely comes near the top of the list. Mistaken impressions, false assumptions, and outright lies abound. And such commonly pops up not merely in everyday conversation, but in “official” sources such as the news media, politicians, etc., too. Help change a bit of that by wielding some healthy skepticism not toward the poor, but toward what you commonly hear or read about them. Few are more poorly understood than the poor so deliberately go the second (and third and fourth) mile in seeking improved understanding, not settling for superficial thought or merely swallowing whatever you hear said about them by others. Bless those who have not by thinking critically of them, but by using your critical thinking for them.
Empower them completely with whatever you give them. Picture this. You’re stopped at the traffic light and someone on the median beside you is holding a sign that reads: “Hungry. God bless you.” What do you do? Curse the light that you didn’t get through? Avoid eye contact and pretend to be oblivious to them due to your looking for, or at, something? Root out a a couple of one dollar bills and silently hand them to the person, all the while thinking, “They’ll probably just go blow it on beer or a lottery ticket?” How about considering another option instead? Carry some gift cards to fast food joints in the area with you at all times. The next time you’re at the light, hand the person one of those cards, tell them, “I know this isn’t much, but it’s supper. May God bless you!” And mean it. Then, as you drive away, pray for that person (see # 6 below). They can’t blow the gift card on a beer or lottery ticket and they just might be amazed that someone actually respected them enough to acknowledge their existence and speak to them. Such is all too rare. Bless the poor by maximizing what you do give them.
Understand, and respect the fact, that the values of the have nots are not the values of those who have. If you were underemployed and/or underpaid for your employment, what would be your sense of priorities? Keeping the job you have would be supreme, no? And jobs that don’t pay a wage on which a person can live without assistance from others typically demand far more than jobs which many others hold (i.e. – more drive time, longer and odder hours, etc.). So transportation becomes even more important a value to one so employed, right? After all, if you’re poor, you don’t have a second car to fall back on and your friends may not have transportation at all and so, look to you for such for themselves. If you can’t get to work, you can’t keep that all-important job. Being in the situation you are, you can’t scrap up the money for a decent place to live and your life is work, so there’s no real time or money for leisure activities. So, if you were in that situation, what you put your money into that was beyond what was needed to eat and survive? Reliable transportation, of course! Now remember that the next time you see someone who says they’re need driving a newer model car than your own. Odds are, that car has twice the mileage your car has on it, too, even though it appears to be in good shape. Bless the oppressed by refusing to measure them by your own set of priorities.
Petition God on their behalf. Some of them have never known God. Pray for them. Some of them who have known him have stopped praying to him because their situation has caused them to lose faith that he hears them. Pray for them. Some have gotten themselves into dark ways because their having little (if anything) surrounds them with temptations that have no real attraction to the rest of us (cf. Prov. 30.7-9). Pray for them. Bless the burdened with your intercession with God for them.
Get to know them. Do whatever it takes to deliberately place yourself in a position where you will no longer be insulated from interacting with them. Bless the poor by befriending, not distancing yourself from, them. By doing so, you just might be befriending an angel, unaware.