by Neal Windham, Spiritual Formation Pastor
"Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” – Proverbs 14:31
Thank God, there come those rare moments in life when our faith in people, flawed as we are, is nevertheless powerfully, jarringly restored. Recently, I had just such a moment while reading Lauren Winner’s book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. In it, Dr. Winner, a professor of spirituality at Duke University, recounts a story about her visit to a church in Massachusetts.
Winner entered the church incognito, looking for an aisle seat on one of the back pews. To her delight, there was in fact just such a seat available. However, as the service began, a woman joined her on this pew and still another, who came in from the other side, stood waiting patiently for Winner to scoot over so she could have her aisle seat. So here is Dr. Winner, now sandwiched in, unable to escape in a crowd of total strangers.
The woman who occupied the aisle seat wore a hat and sunglasses and, oddly enough, had a suitcase. She reeked of rotten apples and never said or sang a word, but people in the church seemed to know her. About halfway through the sermon, she began to tap her finger to no particular rhythm, bugging the daylights out of Dr. Winner, who eventually grasped her hand to stop the incessant tapping. But, to Winner’s astonishment, the woman did not seem offended or surprised. “In fact,” writes Winner, “she seems to be holding my hand. We hold hands for the rest of the service.” (Yes, you really should read Still, particularly if you’re at or near the “mid-faith” season of life.)
The Kingdom of Heaven is roomy, with aisle seating for rich and poor alike, though I doubt anyone in their right mind would ever be looking for an escape route. “To oppress the poor is not just an attack on them but also on God, who made them,” writes Tremper Longman. Conversely, “To honor the poor is to honor God.”
Just how do we dishonor our Maker by showing contempt for the poor? On the other hand, how in honoring the poor do we at the same time honor God?
Father, you have held my hand steadily in the midst of my own lingering spiritual poverty. Thank you. I want to do the same for others, both for those who are physically and spiritually poor. And then again, I don’t. I’ve never gotten along with rotten apples. But the stench of my own selfishness smells even worse, Lord. Please, help me to get over anything that keeps me from really caring. I don’t want to be a jerk. So how can I honor you by honoring them today? When and where should I give up my seat? Just how can I take, and hold, their hand for the long haul? In Jesus’ name. Amen.