Happenings, News

Neighbours are rich and poor

IN THE movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, the gypsy sings her prayer: “God help the outcast, hungry from birth. Show them the mercy they don’t find on earth. God help my people win them to you still. God help the outcast when nobody will … Please help my people, the poor and down trod. I thought we always (are) children of God.”

Jesus asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough?” ( Luke 13: 20-21) God uses ordinary people. The kingdom of God is not about elitism and exclusiveness. It starts with a housewife. Yes, a woman. A social nobody then, who goes about her daily household chores.

Mother Teresa believed that we see Christ in the poor. Her Sisters of charity believe they touch the body of Christ when they help the poor. They pray while working, believing they are doing it for Jesus and doing it to Jesus.

Our culture of commercialisation is teaching us to live as the Rich Man in the story of Lazarus. We are occasionally presented with the images of the poor Man Lazarus at our gate but we are immediately reminded of the extra gadget we ought to buy and the next restaurant we should eat.

The theologian Jürgen Moltmann said: “The opposite of poverty is not property. Rather, the opposite of both is community.”

In 1942, Clarence Jordan, having studied agriculture and then theology, attempted a shocking experiment in living the Gospel by founding Koinonia Farm in Georgia.

Among the many impacted by Mr Jordan was Mr Millard Fuller. In November 1965, Mrs Linda Fuller told her husband that she was leaving him. He was so absorbed in his business, making the sum of US$1 million (S$1.5 million) a year that he had not noticed she was slipping away. Panicked by her wake-up call, he put her and their children into their Lincoln Continental and set off for Florida. On the way they met some friends in Georgia, who had moved to Mr Jordan’s Koinonia community. Mr Fuller agreed to have lunch with Mr Jordan, and ended up staying a month.

Mr Fuller began hammering on new door frames, as he founded the ministry called Habitat for Humanity, which has engaged thousands of volunteers in building more than 100,000 homes for the working poor throughout America and around the world.

On this earth, we are called to live in community where status is outdated, where we laugh at the hint of somebody feeling superior. We do not live in an insulated bubble. We learn by living, sharing, daring, tearing down fences. We open doors. The problem is the door, not the wealth, not the poverty, but the door.

Mother Teresa heeded Christ’s call to serve the poor, and she burst through an ugly door into the slums of Calcutta. Sometimes churches burst through a door to discover new neighbours. Neighbours near and in far-away places. Neighbours from diverse ethnicity and culture. God is building a people, not defined by poverty or property, but as a community.

Jesus could not stand the way people love things and use people instead of loving people and using things. They were content to live in the world with beggars when God wanted to give them brothers and sisters.

My former District Superintendent in the United Methodist Church in the US, the Rev Bette Poe, wrote: “… our world is a hungry world; hungry not just for food for the body, although there are millions of people who are physically hungry. But, our world is hungry for … answers … for hope … for something to fill that empty place in their lives …

“Why, then, do we turn our eyes away from those who are most hungry for Jesus? The drunks, the crackheads, the prostitutes, the outcasts of society. Why aren’t we inviting those people to church? Why do all the people in our pews look like us?”

In contrast, John Wesley wrote “I bear the rich and love the poor; therefore I spend almost all my time with them.” (Letter to Ann Foard, Sept 25, 1757).

We are the victims of our own way of life when we cut ourselves off from each other. When we fail to knit our lives together
with all other lives, then we are the loser. However if we have faith in Christ, we will learn to respond to needs as Christ does. Surprisingly, we discover that both the rich and the poor/the outcast need the same thing from each other – community.

We are not independent. We are interdependent!