I stopped by the local homeless shelter the other night to take part in the evening chapel service. Our small group leads the service once each quarter and that evening was our turn. As I sat in the seat looking at the folks gathered around me I realized that my motivation for being there was lacking. I wanted to befriend these people and share with them a glimpse of hope but I was tired and felt like being introverted. I would rather have been self absorbed that evening and lounged in front of the TV.
While sitting there I noticed a painting on the wall. It was a picture of Jesus wearing a stocking cap receiving a plate of food. His face was peaceful and welcoming. What’s amazing is that it was Jesus that was receiving the food. He was not the one multiplying it, serving it, or cooking it but the one receiving it. I was struck initially because it seemed the painting had it backwards. Shouldn’t Jesus be the one serving the food?
Forty homeless people had gathered for a meal and the painting pointing back at them had basically nothing to do about them and all to do about me.
Jesus was in their weather worn faces. His image was amongst their tattoos, beards and ragged frames. Would I see it?
What do we see in the plight of the poor? Futility? Sin? Karma? Are we able to see God’s grace?
Tim Keller in the book Generous Justice says, “There is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor.” (pg. 19) God’s grace saved me, and it’s God’s grace that should compel me to do justice for others.
How does God’s grace help me to see Jesus in the faces of the poor?
Grace is basically the process of being given benefits that are not deserved. (pg.49) I have been given a pardon for my sins that I do not deserve. I have been given relationship with Christ that I do not deserve. I have been given a loving family, natural talents, joy and peace; all from God, and yet my life is sinful and full of greed and selfishness. I have been given much from God that I could never earn. It’s his grace that has blessed and set me free.
As you look upon the plight of those in poverty what do you see? What do you understand about humanity? What feelings fill your mind?
The visual brokenness that we see in the poor should remind us of the brokenness that lurks in our own being. We should see brothers or sisters struggling to find a way in this world, each in need of Christ, no more dependent on God than me. We should realize that all sin, including our own, was and is in need of God’s grace.
When doing so the poor become much more than just wasted opportunities. They become people who deserve equal acknowledgement and loving opportunity to develop and grow. You see justice is: giving people exactly what they do deserve. (pg 49) What do the poor deserve? The same things you deserve. A friend…a choice…an advocate…a purpose…a voice.
Jesus says in Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Jesus receives that plate of food because he died for that homeless man. His blood was shed for that displaced woman and her children. His kingdom is about them, and me, and all who have been created in his image. When a person grasps the volume of God’s grace upon their lives they will respond with a heart of justice. As Mr. Keller reiterates in his book: “In the mind of the Old Testament prophets as well as the teaching of Jesus, an encounter with grace inevitably leads to a life of justice.” (pg 49)
No heart that loves Christ can be cold to the vulnerable and the needy.
That night at the shelter ended up being a wonderful evening. I met Jim and Danny, both really incredible guys trapped in a swirling rut of cause and effect. But both gifted caring individuals. I spoke again to Joe and heard more of his story and told him I appreciated him. Jesus was there, in their plight and circumstances. His love for them is genuine and his grace in me became even more real.
What is your attitude towards the poor? Does it reveal the same attitude you have towards Christ? Have you realized God’s grace in your life? Is it pushing you towards a heart of justice?