From the mail bag…… here is an excerpt from a letter I received in response to my post yesterday:
I’m not convinced that God tells us to go find misery and poverty in the world and then fix it. That would ascribe a God-like omnipotence and limitless resources to us. The Samaritan wasn’t traveling along the backroads trying to find someone he could minister to, he was more likely going about his day when he saw a chance to do good. Even most missionaries require financial support from churches back home since ministering full-time in and of itself is not economically sustainable.
This is a great point. In fact, it gets to the heart of a very puzzling issue to me.
The Teacher of the Law asked, "Who is my neighbor?" to which Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan. As I understand it, the point of that story was that our neighbors are those, "within our physical sphere of influence." Those we are in contact with in, "real life." Those we come across in, “our daily duties.”
Back in the olde days, this concept was easily understood because there was no other option. Now technology has changed all that. In the olde days, it was obvious the influence of one person could only reach so far. Our eyes could only see so far, our voices could only carry so far, our arms could only reach so far. It’s interesting how we were made in the image of God in His likeness, but only given the tiniest fraction of His power. Even with the aid of technology, we will always be limited by time and only being able to think about one thing at once (unless you’re female and can think about 4-5 things at once).
Now though, through Skype, my voice and presence can travel thousands of miles. I’ve video-chatted live with my brother in Afghanistan as if he were in the same room with me. And my “arms” are much longer today too. With a click of a button I can lift a child out of poverty. Or support an indigenous missionary. After watching real-time footage of the earthquake disaster in Japan, I can provide real-time support by donating to the Red Cross.
As an aside, when we think of people having influence today, we think primarily of mass media. Through radio and TV one person can reach millions. I heard there were 2 billion people watching the Middleton-Prince William wedding. But have you ever thought about how Jesus impacted the entire world but was never on TV or involved in any type of mass media? In fact, it is likely he never talked to or communicated with anyone outside the sphere of his immediate physical presence. We have no indication he ever even wrote a single letter. Jesus restricted himself to face-to-face contact with folks. That alone could probably teach us a lot.
But here’s where it gets tricky: If my neighbor is that person who is directly within my sphere of influence, what happens when my sphere of influence is suddenly increased – like it has been through technology over the last 20 years – to include the entire globe?
Now an immediate problem arises. If my responsibility extends to everyone within my sphere of influence, and if my influence has now exponentially increased to include billions of people, it is clear I’m spread too thin. If I tried helping everyone, in about five minutes I’d be wiped out financially. Then I’d be destitute myself, and was that really the point?
On the flip side, if I throw my hands in the air and say, "I can’t help everyone, so I’m only going to help those people I come into contact with in my day-to-day life," that fails to take into account that technology has also conveniently stratified my particular socio-economic class into a layer where desperate physical needs are all but non-existent.
It may be instructive to note that Jesus took his "physical presence" to places with high need. But it’s also instructive that he apparently lived a fairly normal life in Nazareth until he was around 30 years old. So go figure.
When I was in Haiti, I saw a number of people in public who were sick or injured. I remember passing a kid sitting outside who had a large swollen jaw and a bandage wrapped around his head. Another kid had a gross looking swollen eye that probably needed attention. I saw a cripple. I saw a teenager so emaciated I was sure he was about to die (he was in his home, but should have been in ICU). I saw several sick kids lying on the ground partially clothed or even naked. None of them were in a hospital or anything. At one point I remember thinking, "This must have been how it was in Jesus’ day where the lame and blind and sick were everywhere, out in the open, and would gather around Jesus to be healed."
In our suburbs, there is pain, injury, and sickness too. But it is all sanitized and hidden away behind a sterile environment. For the worst cases, paramedics in sharp uniforms transport the patient to hospitals where they are attended to by trained nurses, competent doctors, and given access to only the best diagnostic equipment, drugs, and latest surgery techniques. When death comes here in the States, it is usually in a drugged state. In Haiti, life is much more raw. If something bad happens, you might just die. Right there where it happened even.
I can drive myself crazy trying to analyze all the ins and outs of what exactly I should be doing to make the most impact. At the end of the day, as a Follower of Jesus I have to come back to realizing my salvation does not hinge on what I do (or who I help), but rather on putting my faith in Him for my salvation. I trust Jesus, as Lord of my life, to lead me on the path He has for me. Whether that path is here in the emotionally and spiritually hurting suburbs, or a location with needs more raw and earthy, I know there is plenty of work to do in either place. The primary thing is to follow Christ’s leading, and produce fruit where I’m planted.
I’ll end this post with another excerpt from the letter I quoted at the beginning,
The thing is, there are so many counter-arguments to any position that it is easy to become paralyzed by it. In fact, you could argue that the point of helping poor people is more to be obedient to God than to actually alleviate poverty, so perhaps it’s best to ignore counter-arguments to any one course of action and simply do something as intelligently as you can.