Jesus’ words about mercy and how we, as his disciples, should seek out, invite, give to, speak for, and help the marginalized in society are not subtle.
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” -Luke 14:12-14
The poor, the elderly, the children, the weak, the disabled, the orphan, the widow, the foriegner, the ill… all these are specifically pointed out in scripture, and Jesus makes it clear- we are to give to the least of these as though we were giving to him. And at times, I think fantasy-thoughts about doing just that. I picture myself running a clinic to provide medical care for the poor and a home for the elderly where they would be cared for with dignity. But the missing day-to-day details of my imaginary Jesus lifestyle allow me to think dreamy thoughts and not face the reality of what Jesus calls me to do right where I am.
See, if I had a clinic for the poor, there would be those who would abuse it, those who wouldn’t be grateful, those who would be rude, those who would be irritating. And if I had a home for the elderly there would be complaints and grievances with family members. There would grey-headed ladies yelling at me to shut the music off because they’re playing bingo. There would be plates thrown across the room cause, “This isn’t food, this is crap!”
The truth is, when Paul in Ephesians 5 starts into what it looks like to, “…walk in love as Christ first loved us and gave himself for us,” he doesn’t say (vs. 22), “Nurses, open up free healthcare clinics for the poor, or dignified homes for the elderly.” Although those are good things, and we should do them. But Paul’s instruction is to the wives, husbands, children, servants… for them to submit themselves to each other. That’s where walking in Christlike love is really put to the test.
In any relationship- with the poor, with the elderly, with the disabled, with the orphan, with the widow, or with your husband, child or boss- sin is going to make it hard. Your sin and the sin of the person you’re in relationship with.
We should extend our lives to the poor, but it’s not going to be pretty. It’s going to be messy. As messy as it is with your spouse or child or boss. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives for each other, not just be philanthropic. We aren’t called to give donations to the poor, we are called to love them and that requires forgiveness, repentance, bearing with hard things and walking through hard things.
This is why we need the church. We need to be in relationships with people we would never normally be in relationships with. We need to face conflict, sin, pain, bitterness, poverty, rudeness… broken humanity and learn to deal with sin in humility, love, and truth.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s not so much whether I donate to the poor orphans in Africa, or visit the elderly in a nursing home, but whether I vulnerably love my husband, stretch myself to spend time with people I don’t know very well who want to follow Jesus too, and over time, when our sin makes things ugly, forgive and love them. The marginalized are not righteous because they’re marginalized. They can’t give back anything you might otherwise get from a richer, more mainstream sinner, like status, reputation, money, position, etc. But they aren’t going to be any easier to love and lead to Christ. It’s not going to be easy teaching them to follow all the things he has taught us just because they’re poor.
“The rich and the poor meet together, the LORD is the maker of them all.” – Proverbs 22:2
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” -Romans 3:23
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35