Christian folks who want to claim Jesus without actually following him as disciples are fond of quoting Him as saying, “The poor you will have with you always” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8). This is a problem with not reading the Scripture in context, and not knowing the Old Testament. Jesus was a first century rabbi who like other teachers of the time would quote from the first part of a biblical passage, knowing his listeners had enough biblical knowledge to know the rest, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).”
- Pope Francis
I know that I have friends who are receiving, or have applied for, or are thinking about applying for food stamps or Medicaid, or who are getting help from their parents, or from their church, or from the local food bank. For every one I know about, I’m sure there are others who are in the same position, but haven’t told me, because they’re embarrassed or ashamed. If that’s you, there’s something I want to tell you:
If you are ever tempted to think that you are doing wrong by asking for what you need, cut it out. Stop it. Repent. Jesus said that the rich were going to struggle to get into heaven. They might as well be camels, trying to get through the eye of a needle. They can’t do it, but God will make it possible. Your poverty, your need may be the thing that allows them to get through the needle’s eye, when they give to you.
And it really doesn’t matter if the giving is voluntary. I often hear people say that God doesn’t want us to be compelled to give. He wants us to give voluntarily. Well, of course that’s true. It is far better for us to give from a cheerful heart. But God will bless our gifts, and those who receive them, even if we give grudgingly.
Remember what St. Thomas did in India. He was hired by a prince to build a palace. He said he’d work on it, and he kept going back and asking for more money, and more money, and more money. Eventually, the prince wanted to see the palace, and St. Thomas showed him all the poor that he’d been feeding and housing and caring for. The prince, in fury, had him thrown in jail. And then the prince had a dream, in which one of his brothers who had already died came to him and showed him the great palace in Heaven that St. Thomas had been building for him by caring for the poor. St. Thomas had asked God to treat the gifts as if they’d been given freely by the prince, and God had honored that prayer. The prince was being saved by the gifts that St. Thomas was making to the poor on his behalf. Once the prince understood that, he freed St. Thomas and had him continue caring for the poor. But notice: God didn’t wait for him to give freely and cheerfully. God accepted the gifts that the prince gave to the poor, even when he didn’t know he was giving, even when he didn’t choose to give, and even when he would not have given if he’d had the choice.
By accepting the gifts of money and care and services from the rest of us, whether the gift is in an envelope slipped to you after church on Sunday morning, or whether it’s through food stamps or SSDI, or whatever it is, you are ministering to us. You are helping to free us from our attachment to the things of this world. You are helping us to repent of our worship of mammon. You are our guides and our help on the path to salvation.
For this, I make a metania and kiss both of your cheeks. Thank you.
~ Charli Riggle
A wonderful litany from the Friends tradition. It is unusual because the Friends are not very liturgical.
A Responsive Prayer for Justice
Pray for those who are hungry.
Pray harder for those who will not feed them.
Pray for those who struggle each week to pay their bills.
Pray harder for the wealthy who do not care.
Pray for those who are homeless.
Pray harder for those who deny them shelter.
Pray for the sick and lonely.
Pray harder for those who will not give them comfort.
Pray for those who cry out for dignity.
Pray harder for those who will not listen.
Pray for those oppressed by unjust wages.
Pray harder for those who exploit them.
Pray for those who bear the yoke of prejudice.
Pray harder for those who discriminate against them.
Pray for those whose basic needs are denied.
Pray harder for the public officials who cater to the greedy and ignore those bound unjustly.
“Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world. The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked: Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the prisoners?
That is all I shall be asked.”
- St. Maria of Paris
Mother Maria was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. On Holy Saturday, 1945, she took the place of a Jewish woman who was going to be sent to the Gas Chamber, and died in her place. It was her simple life of almsgiving that gave her the courage to do that. It was the next logical step. One does not step up to give one’s life if one has not been willing to give one’s stuff.
Yesterday I went to Philadelphia in the late morning. I picked up Gregory Henderson and Anthony McNeil and we proceeded to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Northern Liberties (a neighborhood in Philadelphia) to set up for the orientation and food safety course that was to start at noon. Jamey Bennett and Bob Lutzick joined us. I was sidewalk supervisor as they did the work setting up. My spine was killing me with extreme pain, so I didn’t do much lifting. A little past noon I started with a short history and philosophy of The King’s Jubilee. I stressed that we do not just serve people leftovers. We strive for nutritional and culinary excellence! And we try to give people options.
Bernard Finkel arrived to teach the food safety class at about 12:30 and discovered that he forgot the folder with the quiz and the permit applications in it. He will email the applications to everyone who was there, who needs them. He began the class shortly after 1 and finished shortly after 3pm. 16 of the 25 people who pre-registered attended, plus three who had not registered, who were just there for the information. We were able to help other ministries and get the word out that it is legal to serve the homeless and poor in the parks of Philadelphia. Two of the attendees whom we had not met before indicated that they hope to serve with The King’s Jubilee. That is very encouraging. Afterwards, I had a conversation with Fr. John and received his blessing.
From there, I dropped Gregory & Anthony back home and proceeded downtown to join The Word In Action International’s 28th Annual Gospelrama in progress at JFK Plaza aka The Love Park. I heard some exceptional Christian rap by some young men. Then I had what we sometimes call “an appointment from God.” It was too loud in the area in front of the stage, so I went next to and sort of behind the stage, by the ramp. There I meet Pete, Rosie’s brother. I have not seen Pete for several years. I have been thinking about him lately. He was surprised I still recognized him. I’ve known him for 25 years. He told me that he has been off the street for eight years now, living in Northeast Phila. We talked and caught up on life and times. He asked about April. His brother, Bill, is in the hospital with a heart attack and hepatitis. Pete is going to join us on Thursday night and bring some of his old clothes to give away. Pete lived on the street for 15 years. So it comes full circle. Before I left, Rev.Joses St. Phard gave me a word of encouragement and a blessing.
I left there at 6:30 to go to Dahlak Eritrean & Ethiopian Restaurant at 4708 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia, to meet with Tim Horras, my good friend and leader of Philly Socialists. He texted me that he was going to be much later than planned. So I had dinner there. It was excellent! I had a long time to wait. The place lends itself to a feeling of community. The owners are Orthodox Christians. I was enjoying listening to various conversations. I felt free to speak with folks at the table next to mine. They had overheard my phone conversations, so we spoke about the ministry. They looked up this website on their smartphones before I paid my bill. Tim showed up at 8:30 with the band. We spoke about my future, trying to avoid foreclosure, finish writing books, keep the ministry going. We spoke about Ethiopia’s rich Christian history. We spoke about stepping up Philly Socialists’ plans for offering a viable alternative in Pennsylvania, since none of the major players are offering anything palatable or sustainable.
My back was hurting so badly from being on my feet or on poor chairs most of the day, so I took a Percocet with dinner. So I needed to stay until I was clear headed enough to drive home. I met and got to hear great music from two local bands: Big Tusk and Attic Stairs. I also met a number of energetic, young people, committed to making the world better. This gives one hope for the future. I drove home around midnight. I stopped by to fill the tank and pick up a little something in the Wawa. The man at the counter saw the TKJ logo on my hat and said with a sincere smile, “Thank you for your kindness.” I just felt so blessed. I couldn’t say anything in response. I just smiled weakly and left for home.
April and our grandsons helped me make the pot of turkey gumbo and a big roaster pan of beans, rice and zucchini for last night. It was a hardy soup with the meat and broth from a whole roasted turkey, 2 pounds of chopped red sweet peppers, 2 fennels, 2 pounds of okra, 2 diced onions, 2 pounds of sliced carrots, 1-1/2 pounds of quartered radishes, 2 pounds of chopped beets, 2 chopped kohlrabi, fresh corn from 10 ears, fresh basil, fresh parsley, turmeric, chicken broth, fresh garlic, a diced ginger root, and fresh ground black pepper.
I washed out the large, agate, turkey roaster pan and put the zucchini mixture that April had made. It had a jalapeno pepper, onion, sweet red pepper, and all sorts of seasonings, sauteed in olive oil. I made a rice cooker full of whole grain rice with some turmeric added to the water. I mixed in the rice, three cans of black beans and added a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder, a bit more water and stirred it all up. Then I put the lid on and put it in the oven to slow roast at 180 for 4 hours.
I cleaned up the kitchen and loaded up the TKJ-mobile with the baked goods, the crackers and chips. I went to Giant and bought the 10 gallons of iced tea and 350 hot/cold cups and more spoons and another bottle of hot sauce. I filled the hand washing station with hot water and loaded that in the car. Kristi brought a few loaves of sandwiches. Brian arrived and helped me remember the spoon and ladle. Then Serge arrived with several more loaves of sandwiches. So it was 7 and Brian and I left for the city. At 8, we arrived at 1801 Vine in center city. Billy and his wife, Julie, and their two daughters were there along with Stephen and Anthony. They and a couple of the other guys helped us unload and set up. The line was all the way across the park already. Bob arrived with his homemade cookies. A couple of young people from Inner-City Mission were playing guitar and singing and using a cardboard box for percussion. We got all set up. Billy asked the musicians to stop for a moment so he could say a blessing for the food. Then we started serving.
A few more volunteers arrived and joined the line. We ran out of everything. The McGraws showed up with pasta and sauce just as we ran out of soup and beans and rice. Everyone who was there when we arrived got something to eat, but some who arrived later got very little or nothing. We saw several new faces we had never seen before. Several of these were very frustrated and agitated at having missed out on dinner. Once the major cuts in food stamps kick in in November, I can’t imagine what the situation will be.
I just can’t imagine it would be God’s will for us to stop now. We are in an impossible situation, financially and vocationally. The business is closed. Bethann is out of work and unemployment is running out. No one has registered for the Hummus Open golf tournament. I do have a woodworking job next week. There are some projects at Cogsville that we hope will start to pay off. A couple of donations came in from new donors in the last couple of days.
The need is just too great. People need to step up. This is not the time for us to be quitting. The safety net in place since the Great Depression has been largely dismantled. It’s time to put up or shut up. That’s on top of the fact that it would just kill me to stop. This is not just something I happen to do on Thursday nights. It is when I am most fully alive. Maybe it’s as simple as that old song: “Everybody eats when they come to my house!”
I’m sure it’s not. I’m sure there are better reasons to give than to make me happy. Consider this. If this ministry folds and November comes, there may be blood running in the streets. Ours is not the only ministry that is underfunded. The spirit of meanness has infected much of the country. Even though tax rates are down and stocks are up, nothing is trickling down and charitable giving has declined, because the super-rich don’t give to the poor. Most giving to the poor comes from the lower middle class. There is hardly any lower middle class left. Seriously, this country is not prepared for what is going to happen when people run out of food, and worse yet, run out of food for their children, due to the meanness of these legislators and their worship of Ayn Rand atheism.
May God have mercy and deliver us from our foolishness and greed.
When I was a youth, this old Salvation Army song was used as a drinking song. But the sentiment of the song and the evangelical theology it represents has infected our culture in a pernicious way. It is to the point now that people who are poor are seen as somehow morally defective. It seems a large part of the population, including many, if not most church-goers in America equate poverty and homelessness with drug and alcohol addiction, sloth, immorality, lasciviousness and general lack of faith. I got asked again, last Thursday, if we have seen much results of people coming to faith through this ministry through the years. My answer did not make the youth leader happy. I said, “I am not here to save them. I am here to save me. These people are not rats. The food is not bait. Just because they are poor does not mean that they need saving. When someone thanks me for serving or asks why I do what I do, I tell them, ‘I am here because Jesus loves you and He compels me to be here.’ And some have learned to thank God for us.”
We have never coerced people to sit through a sermon in order to receive a meal. I find that degrading, humiliating and contrary to the Gospel. The Gospel is to be without price, never by coercion. So, if we were ever going to preach, it would be after the meal to whoever would want to freely stay and listen. And we have on occasion shared stories of the Saints and of Jesus’ ministry and message.
People have assumptions about homeless people that are not based in reality. The most common is that a majority of them are addicts and that is why they are homeless. That is false on two counts. Addiction rates are the same among people becoming homeless as they are among the general population. The rate doubles after a year of homelessness. So homelessness is more a cause of addiction than a result of it.
The most common cause of homelessness is a health problem or hospitalization that causes one to be unable to pay the rent or the mortgage. Medical debt also ruins one’s credit rating, so one cannot rent anywhere else and disqualifies one for many types of employment. Once a person is homeless, it is very difficult to break out of it. Most employers will not hire anyone who does not have a permanent residence. The social service industry prides itself on its placement rate, but, at the same time, does not want to go out of business, so the hoops seem endless and there is no incentive for them to short circuit the process so people do not become homeless in the first place. One has to fall through the “safety net” that isn’t there before one can be helped, losing all one’s possessions, memorabilia, etc. This process takes years, and forces a lifetime dependency on the social service industry; good for the industry, bad for the people.
Poverty is not a sin. “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’ ” [Luke 6:20]
Wealth on the other hand. … “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” [James 5:1-6]
People who know me well will find this hard to believe. I do more listening than speaking among the homeless. Perhaps it is because there is an easiness there. They really do save me, by their presence and by their prayers.
I should be working among them full time, but soon I may not be doing anything but living among them. The business has failed. We need $600 today just to pay July’s health insurance. If we don’t, we will end up owing even more. Two months’ mortgage due, utilities, etc. Apparently, what I do is not worth my space in the world in this economy. This ministry will die without meaningful support. I should not have subsidized it for as long as I did, I guess. But I only see death as an alternative.
* thanks to Jennifer Barefoot McCoy for the photo
Nothing is ours. When we give, it is not ours to give, so there is no obligation of gratitude expected. When we lend, it is not ours, there is no repayment expected. It is all God’s. We can earn nothing except God gives us breath.
Just give thanks that you can give rather than have to receive.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” – Acts 2:44-45
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” – Acts 4:32
“Do not turn away from him who is in want; rather, share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in things which are mortal?” — The Didache, chapter 4
“Thou shalt communicate in all things with thy neighbour; thou shalt not call things thine own; for if ye are partakers in common of things which are incorruptible, how much more [should you be] of those things which are corruptible!” — The Epistle of Barnabas, chapter XIX
On Thursday, June 27, it was Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church’s night to serve on the street. They decided to bring ice cream sundaes with all the toppings for dessert along with the meal. They always do a bang up job. This was no exception. It was pouring rain when they set up and as they began to serve. I was put to work holding an umbrella to keep the soup from becoming diluted per Fr. Christos’s orders. The rain soon stopped and the ice cream came out: a huge container each of vanilla and chocolate. There was a case of Reddi-Whip, tubs of Maraschino cherries, chocolate and colored jimmies, chocolate and other syrups. Everyone got firsts. Many got seconds and more!
The volunteers were joyfully serving. Billy seemed to be even happier than usual as he piled on the whipped cream and topped it off with a cherry. It was a joy to witness. Once the ice cream was gone, I cheated and enjoyed a bowlful of whipped cream with chocolate jimmies.
Amazingly, there is an attitude that has taken hold in this age that would take offense at what we did. It goes something like this: ‘Why should we give people who don’t work nice things with our hard earned money? How will they learn to go out and get a job and better themselves?’
There are several flaws in that attitude. The first is that God told us to give to everyone in need. He told us to give until there is equality: “If you have two coats, give to him that has none.” “Our desire is that … there may be equality.” (2 Cor. 8:13) Jesus did not put any conditions of judging worthiness of alms recipients. In fact, we are repeatedly told to not judge.
The second flaw is that we could earn nothing except by the grace of God and the gifts He had given us and the accidents of race and friendships, geography, health, healthcare, etc.
The third flaw is that even after we have “earned” it, the money is not ours. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” (Ps.24:1) God is not a respecter of persons. So to share a little bit of summer joy with some of God’s children who are down on their luck or who have lost their way or however you want to put it, is well within the Father’s will.
The fourth flaw is that most of these people could not even buy a job with a living wage. Many of those we serve do work and work hard, but wages have not kept up with the cost of living, especially of food costs in the city. Many are older or veterans with PTSD and no employers want to be bothered. Many worked hard at jobs that have now been moved to China. No one will hire someone without an address.
We just try to bring a little brightness and joy in Jesus’ Name. How can this be a bad thing? It is the tender mercies of God that lead men to repentance. Soften our hearts, Lord.