Sometimes Poverty and Homelessness Have to be Tackled One Person at a Time

Bottles of Water and Eternal Rewards

by Minister Paul J. Bern

blessed are the poor

Those of you who from here in Atlanta who know me personally are well aware that every time I’m out and about, I keep my eyes wide open for anyone in significant need. I’m not talking about the usual cadre of panhandlers posing as beggars. Atlanta is a town full of professional paupers, who hang around the MARTA light rail system that threads its way throughout Atlanta acting like little lost puppies. Since Georgia’s minimum wage is still stuck at a downright stingy $7.25 an hour, one can often make better than the minimum wage just by begging. Unlike some, however, I don’t necessarily see this as being the beggar’s ‘fault’ per Se. It’s more like capitalism has created these professional panhandlers by trapping them in the economic situations they are in.

Why do I think this way about those who are stuck in poverty? I am right in there with them, that’s why! I spent 16 years in IT, followed by 4 years as a contract delivery driver before my vehicle and my health abruptly gave out. In 2006, four months after my 50th birthday, I had a stroke which I was fortunate enough to survive relatively intact. It took about 3 years for me to get to the point where I felt like I was healthy enough to go back to work. But I was never able to return to the work force, and so I’ve been writing here at home ever since. One of these days, I’m going to make myself some real money for all my efforts, but for now let me get back on topic.

Earlier this week I had to make a trip to my neighborhood Off-the-wall Mart to pick up one of my prescriptions, plus a few other odds and ends. When I came out, I was tired from being on my feet for nearly an hour, and my little folding shopping cart that I currently use to get my groceries – plus those “odds and ends” – home, was full. So I sat down on one of the benches to take a break before walking my stuff and myself back to the bus stop about ¼ of a mile away. There was this younger Black guy, roughly about 30 or so I’d say, sitting there who looked like he was waiting on someone to come out of the store. After a couple of minutes, these 2 Latina ladies came out with a shopping cart full of stuff, and one of them was carrying a case of 20-ounce bottles of water. As they were walking by, the younger Black guy asked her if he could have one of those water bottles. He explained that he was in between jobs and was homeless, and hadn’t had anything to drink all day.

The Latina lady flatly refused him, and stormed off as if she were insulted by being asked for anything, let alone something she had just paid for ‘with her hard-earned money’. I remember being struck by her refusal to give a single bottle of water that, considering how big that case of water was, couldn’t have cost her more than about 40 cents or so. It was right about then that I noticed that the young Black man was dressed in worn-out clothes, and that he probably was being truthful about being unemployed and homeless. The guy sat back down, dejected, looking down at the pavement as he muttered, “Man, ain’t that enough to p**s off just about anybody? All I asked her for was a (bleeping) bottle of water.” At that point I took a dollar out of my wallet, plus most of my spare change, and I gave it all to him as I said, “Here, go inside a buy yourself a water and a small bag of chips. Never mind her.” After praying over that man and giving him my ‘elevator pitch’ about Jesus, I headed off to the bus stop.

I don’t know for sure if that homeless man gave his heart to Jesus, but even if he didn’t, something tells me he eventually will. But that got me to thinking about two related but distinct things. First, how cold that Latina lady and her friend pushing the cart, who was also Latina, had acted towards the homeless Black man. That man did not ask her for money, and he didn’t ask me either. That poor guy was in such bad shape that no one would help him, which is why I did. And second, I was struck by the realization that I had just seen inequality in action. People are talking about an impending civil war here in the US, but there is considerable argument as to the combatants will be. Many say it will be liberal against conservative, but I think it will be the wealthy elites and their mercenaries against everybody else. A few even try to claim this civil war will be racial in nature. Dylan Roof used that as his reason for killing 17 people engaged in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina several years back, and look what that got him. No, Dylan, there will be no race wars. Enjoy your life sentence. Repent, and you can yet be saved, Dylan and all you other racists. Repent and turn to Jesus.

Jesus prophesied about those days, and about the turbulent and chaotic days still to come, in chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel. “34) ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35) For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – 36) a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” This could be considered a prophecy of any number of civil wars that have happened throughout the course of human history. Wars happen for all kinds of reasons, and they have divided families. But so has religion. I was raised a Catholic, but my former family will have nothing to do with me because I have renounced all belief and confidence in the Vatican. I place my full confidence and belief in Jesus Christ instead, having come to the realization that I could have a personal relationship with Him without the need for the papacy as intermediary. So all my conclusions here are based on personal experience, not merely my opinion.

As we continue together, it reads beginning in verse 37, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38) Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39) Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” The two Latina ladies with their case of water and shopping cart full of goods had everything they needed, and there was no way they were going to share it with anybody. So many fortunate people have good jobs, great families, decent incomes, and some own their own homes. Those who keep it all to themselves – their family, social and educational lives – and yet insist that they believe in Jesus, are deceiving themselves. They claim to serve Christ while serving only themselves, and sometimes their immediate families.

That’s the root cause of economic inequality. As wealth continues to be concentrated into a global cadre of about 400 families, while the remaining 7.6 billion individuals remain in grinding poverty, or are just barely keeping their collective heads above water, an ever-widening divide continues to form. That’s why all of us, both rich and poor, have a moral imperative to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Because, if we don’t do this while continuing to accumulate ‘stuff’ for ourselves, at some point that’s going to sneak up from behind and bite us really bad. So we can either take care of our own business exclusively, or we can take care of God’s business exclusively. The choice is truly ours to make. I made the choice to take up my cross for Christ’s name’s sake a long time ago, and I’ve never regretted it.

Which brings us around full circle to the homeless man, bottle of water and the words of Jesus, beginning at verse 40 to close out this week’s commentary. 40) “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41) Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42) And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matt. 10: verses 40-42) For some additional context, Jesus has been speaking to his apostles during their commissioning as such. So in verse 40, that’s what Jesus meant by, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me….”

Anyone who recognizes and welcomes a prophet gets the same reward as that prophet. Anyone who recognizes and welcomes a righteous (that is, faithful and/or proven trustworthy) man gets the same reward as that righteous man. Moreover, “…. if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…. that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Or, for that matter, a bottled water, whether it is cold or not. Which brings us full circle to my friend in front of the Off-the-wall Mart, and the ladies with the case of water and a shopping cart filled with goods. I could not give that homeless man a cup of cold water, but I did give him the means to get one. Those two ladies I wrote about won’t get their reward, or anything else but eternal condemnation, for that matter. I’m sure they were basically ‘good people’, but that won’t get anyone into a state of eternal life. Refusing to give somebody a bottle of water when they could easily have afforded it, however, can put you into a state of eternal death, even while you are still alive. That’s all for this week, but everyone please find a less fortunate person to help this week, even if you only give them your spare change. It could end up saving their life.

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