| SPEAKER ONCE told those gathered at an academic meeting that everyone -- particularly those who have read their Bible carefully -- says they love the poor. Even so, said the presenter, what we need to start doing is asking each other the more pointed and specific question: "What are the names of the poor people you love?"|
At a Washington, DC, event called "Pentecost 2006" the Rev. Jim Wallis introduced Hillary Rodham Clinton to the gathered crowd as "someone who quotes Matthew 25 often, and she quotes it right!" He was referring, in part , to the words of Jesus:
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
This allowed Ms. Clinton to launch into her prophetic utterance: "I missed the Sunday school lesson about how we help the poor by giving tax cuts to the rich," she opined. "The budget is a moral document!"
Indeed it is. And an immoral one, given the spendthrifts of both parties.
She continued: "Behind those numbers are decisions. How are we going to give a boost up the economic ladder when too many tools have been removed to make that happen?"
Actually, for many liberals and none too few conservatives the "decisions" that are made are about federal monies actually do precious little to help the poor but do indeed position politicians as those who are compassionate in the face of dire need. But, really, the question for Clinton and all of us is "The names? Who are the poor that you love ... not just pass legislation for?"
Ms. Clinton and this columnist share a Methodist tradition. I am therefore reminded of John Wesley who encouraged all Methodists -- the rich, the middle class, and the poor -- to be involved in loving the impoverished. Once in response to some well-off Methodists who wanted to pay a physician to tend the sick with the obvious assumption that he could probably do more for the ill than they, Wesley was adamant:
... this would not excuse you: his going would not fulfill your duty. Neither would it excuse you, unless you saw them with your own eyes. If you do not, you lose a means of grace; you lose an excellent means of increasing your thankfulness to God, who saves you from this pain and sickness, and continues your health and strength; as well as of increasing your sympathy with the afflicted…
He also said that
All therefore who desire to escape everlasting fire and to inherit the everlasting kingdom are equally concerned ... to practice this important duty. It is equally incumbent on young and old, rich and poor, men and women, according to their ability.
It would be difficult to understand Matthew 25:31-46 any other way.
The poor don't need more help from the federal budget and American tax dollars. And they don't need more sermons from Ms. Clinton, Barack Obama, Howard Dean, and Jim Wallis. What they need is Clinton, Obama, Dean, Wallis, you and me to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, remember?) and then move with that Spirit to the needy with compassion, accountability, personal responsibility, and God.
Anything less might just be perceived as political posturing and, yes, immoral.
Matt Friedeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary. Respond to this column at his blog at "EvangelismToday.blogspot.com."
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