(EDITOR'S NOTE: Faith Matters is a column written by the social concerns committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County. The monthly feature will include local faith-based comment on significant social issues facing us today. Letters reacting to the columns should be brief and clear and may be submitted to email@example.com. Opinions expressed in the columns are those of the writers and the social concerns committee, not necessarily the Sun-Gazette.)
It is striking that Jesus, immediately following His selection of the 12 disciples, took them to the field of the poor to teach them about the love and mercy of God. It is arresting that Jesus forecast the subjects of His kingdom to be those who share their food with the poor, their water with those who thirst, hospitality with strangers, clothing with the underdressed, and even concern for the imprisoned. Sharing with the poor and distressed, the shunned and the disfranchised is very much a matter of the faith. Faith abhors self-indulgence.
The poor of the culture in which Jesus sojourned were accounted so because they were unable to barter for the necessities of life due mostly to disabilities, ignorance and sin. They did not have the means to obtain, the understanding to process and ways to apply. Unless they were sold into the service of another, they were left to their fate and their own devices, which were determined by the culture and society in which they lived.
With little exception, in America, the roots of poverty have not changed. Rather, it is the cultural and societal environment that has morphed from bartering and servitude, to a predominately monetary system. Poverty is gauged in this culture by having the ability to secure enough of what is necessary. Poverty is judged by what one has, not by what he does not have.
Very few poor in this culture look like the poor Jesus helped. Besides those who are given the minimum of clothing, food, shelter and health care, the majority of the poor are so, not because they cannot obtain these necessities, but because they cannot maintain them. In an economical environment, enough clothes, food, shelter and health care becomes the issue because everything is based on financial ability.
History has shown that no culture can endure without a "slave-class." Minimum wage, SSI, SSD and welfare is the American means of maintaining a "slave-class." When rent, utilities, food and medicine are hiked, they are beyond the reach of the poor. When the state faces economic constraints, it makes budget cuts or increases the debt ceiling. The poor have no recourse and are the victims of the economy.
When the money is not available, the poor suffer the most. Now, more than ever, people of faith must care what happens to the poor. Do not be put off because someone with decent clothing, a cellphone, even an automobile seeks assistance. The phone and car have become necessities in this culture for obtaining and maintaining a job, security for children, reaching health care services, etc. But, phones and cars, along with housing, utilities, health care and other necessities, must be maintained.
It is fate that one is born in America, but it is faith that becomes the means of rescue and reconstitution. It is clear from revelation that sharing what one has is the prerequisite and the proof of justice. Faith leaves nothing to fate.
Smith is the director of the Shepherd of the Streets Ministry of United Churches of Lycoming County.