Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Looking Into the Eyes of Christ
"You have heard some say, 'We don't need those people.' Well, Jesus is one of those people, and that is a great part of what it means for God to walk among us in human flesh." - Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Address at Trinity University, July 8, 2008
In this second day of considering how to live up to the standard set by Jesus and become more involved in reaching out to our fellow man, this second quote from the Presiding Bishop hit me like a thunderbolt.
"Jesus is one of those people." A carpenter from the poor town of Nazareth who wandered around with twelve men, living among the fringes of early-1st century society, shunning any sort of wealth, living wherever he was welcomed - wherever he could find a place to sleep - wherever he could find a meal. In reading this quote, though, I don't wonder if the bishop hasn't put the emphasis on the wrong word.
Read it her way again. Now, read it this way: "Jesus is one of those people." The first way, a statement of condescension; the second, a surprising statement of fact.
In the past, as I've walked by those who sit in doorways, beg on street corners, drag their possessions up and down the sidewalks of the city - not knowing where they came from and really not caring where they are headed - I tend to not look. I glance away not because of nerves or a need to shut out the problem, but rather because a certain amount of cynicism has built up over the years: the man who came up to me to borrow money because his truck had broken down and he couldn't get home from work, only to approach me the very next day with the very same story before suddenly realizing I had heard it all before; the one who asked for money for a meal only to walk instead into the package story for a bottle of liquor; the stories in the paper of young girls who live under bridges and who trade sex for drugs. Each of these people needs help, but I can't do it all alone and I was frustrated with the results when I did.
In today's economy, though, things have changed - and have changed dramatically. No longer do you look into the eyes of a man or woman huddled in a doorway and simply see the alcohol-riddled shell of a person, or a runaway, or a person looking for their next fix. Instead, you now look into the eyes of an engineer who has been laid off, burned through his savings, and lost his home. You look into the eyes of a young mother with three children who doesn't know how she will find their next meal. You look into the eyes of an older professional who lost everything as a result of shady hedge funds and crooked brokers and who is too proud to ask for help.
The eyes of the people you see on the street now are far different and tell far more stories than simply the tales of drug addiction or drunkenness. The group of people crying out for help through their stares and sad glances is far broader than we in this country should ever have allowed.
Their faces are the face of the suffering Christ, the rejected and scorned Christ, the crucified Christ. The Christ who on Friday had no hope. It is up to us to help these people with the transition to the Sunday miracle. Can any of us do it alone? Of course not - but the bishop's words are a stark reminder that we need to try, for every face you see is a creation of God and is in the image of God. Peter denied Jesus three times and was still forgiven; how many more times must we deny those in need?
No longer is it enough for me to tithe and contribute to charities and go merrily on my way. I need to get involved, and show my daughters the true value of helping their neighbor and the true worth in every man, woman and child.
We have Millenium Development Goals - not Millenium Development Hopes. It's up to each of us to reach those goals and - again - live into the full stature of Christ.