Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"The poor will always be with you..."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 -- Week of Proper 16

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from (go to St. Paul's Home Page and click "Morning Reflection podcast")

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 980)
Psalms 119:1-24 (morning) 12, 13, 14 (evening)
1 Kings 3:1-15
Acts 27:9-26
Mark 14:1-11

I remember being challenged by a friend during a political election years ago. It might have been the Richard Nixon vs. Hubert Humphrey race, I don't recall. My friend grew up in a church she characterized as "Bible-believing." She was critical of one of the presidential nominees and taking issue with the entire notion that the government should do anything whatsoever in response to poverty. "After all," she said. "Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us. Besides, it is the Church's responsibility to take care of the poor, not the government's." She was repeating what she had been taught in her church.

When Judas Iscariot criticizes the generous outpouring of love from the woman who anoints Jesus' head with expensive ointment, he cynically uses a pseudo-compassionate argument. We could have used the money for that ointment for the poor, he says. But he's not a person with a heart for the poor. Nor is he a person of a generous heart. It is said that he embezzled some of the funds that the disciples used for their ministry. Often it is those with the darkest shadow who project their own defects into the public arena, imaging a false personal piety for themselves and finding fault with others who live openly in relationship with whatever that person is secretly struggling with.

It is important to continue reading the entire quote of Jesus' words to Judas. "You always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish..." Showing kindness to the poor is one of the major themes of scripture. It is a core value of Jesus and of the whole of the Bible.

Many of the psalms and the prophets judge the righteousness of the ruler primarily by the ruler's response of generosity toward the poor. The Biblical case that the political and economic systems are expected to act justly and generously toward the poor is a strong one. I've never known where "Bible-believing" churches would get the notion that the Church should have a monopoly over kindness toward the poor and the government should turn a cold shoulder. It's certainly not a Biblical notion.

Here's where I would love some help from someone who reads my Morning Reflections. I remember reading about a study comparing the income of American churches with the value of poverty programs such as Food Stamps or Medicaid. The study concluded that if every dollar contributed to every Church in the U.S. were diverted entirely to relief of the poor, it would not equal the value of even one of the major governmental relief programs. I wish I could find that study or report. Is anyone familiar with that information?

The simple truth is that Jesus is a person of compassion and generosity toward the poor and those who suffer. Jesus also chooses peaceful nonviolence rather than domination by power. His grounding ethic is love. Whenever we live outside those values, we're probably going to be trying to rationalize our choices or project our shadow on others.


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


At 11:02 AM, Blogger Telmeimrong said...

That should be the title of today's blog. You try to equate the government with Judas. Jesus was criticizing and challenging Judas in this scripture, not the government. This is a personal challenge to Judas, and it is not even in the context of government.

You say Jesus chooses peace over domination by power. What do you call the government forcably taking our money and giving it to whoevery they choose? This could include drug addicts, criminals, and lazy people.

I am not saying the gov. shouldn't help, they just can't be good stewards with such a project.

So, what is the truth, simple or otherwise. Jesus doesn't give the government the right to take huge amounts of my money and dole it out to the lazy, drug-addicts of America. That is the truth. Yes I have to give Caesar what is Caesar's, and I do, I don't have to like what he does with it.

At 11:31 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

Any statistical analysis of giveing will be flawed. But here are some estimates.
Americans gave $92.29 billion in cash contributions to charities in 2004.
(For the full report, see:
Analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2004, Charitable Cash Contributions Data by John Ronsvalle, Ph.D. and Sylvia Ronsvalle, empty tomb, inc.)
The Federal Government (you and me) spends about 28.6 billion on food stamps each year.
My first question is when we substitute tax dollar charity for individual acts of charity, does God look upon us as beings with charitable hearts?
Second, should I fork over some more money to repair our church's peeling paneling, rotting carpet, and leaky roof, or should I donate it to the ERD?
Third, doesn't it seem ironic that what Judas and we are discussing is the business of charity?

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Telmeimrong said...

If you do anything without love, it is in vain. Do you pay your taxes with love?

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Doug said...

We need both personal giving and government involvement. Neither can do it without the other, but the sheer size of the problem means that individuals alone can't fix the problem. We need to put pressure on the government to do more, especially to give people a chance to bring themselves out of poverty. Many (though not all) of the poor have so much stacked against them, in terms of educational opportunities, discrimination, barriers to their getting a good job, mental health issues, etc. If the government doesn't get involved in this, it will never get better. What was the jubilee year but the laws of Israel giving those who had become poor for whatever reason a chance to start over. It is obvious that Israel rarely lived up to this high standard itself, but it certainly was there as part of the law of the land.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Actually, I do pay taxes with love. It is the effective way that we all have to work together to provide the support and infrastructure to make our common life together possible. I'm very thankful that my wife and I are so well compensated that we can pay taxes. Wonderful. I know some people who don't because they can't.

I'm writing on the web looking out at the public street in front of my house while a plane flies overhead confident that it will not hit another. All of that is supported by my tax dollars. (I could go on, of course.)

I don't like my taxes going to support an immoral war. I do like my tax dollars insuring order and separating from the rest of us those who act as criminals (and hopefully offering a credible path toward rehabilitation).

In a representative democracy, the government will be as good as its people demand. As a Christian, I try to make my voice heard based on the values of Jesus, and I ask my public representatives to use our common resources wisely and morally.

Sometimes they do (our church-founded health and dental clinic got a federal grant of $750,000 this week to start a second clinic to serve people without insurance or without full access to medical and dental care). Sometimes they do not act morally (the invasion of Iraq).

I like the U-pewster's note that we're talking about the business of charity. Sometimes charity is simple, reflexive generosity. But a lot of charity is planned, reflective and even strategic. Our family's tithing is planned and reflective. Also, I'm in a capital funds drive raising $2.5 million for a supportive housing facility for homeless families and individuals. That charity takes a lot of planning, but it is good work.

One other thing. Your comment about the tension between giving to the church's leaky roof and giving to ERD reminds me of a story. Just after I had been called to serve in Fort Smith (but had not begun) I attended a wedding there as a guest. It was a full church. I was sitting anonymously in the chapel. Two young men were chatting in front of me. One patted the solid oak pew they were sitting on, shook his head and said, "What a waste of wood." "Yeah. Poor trees," said his companion. Those pews had been there nearly 100 years, and will be there another 100+ for the people of that community to connect with God and one another in worship. We had pretty different priorities though.


At 9:14 AM, Blogger scott said...

Though I'm often frustrated with the ineptness of government spending, I would prefer to give to all people who exhibit need... whether it be genuinely meritorious or not. This then draws to the table the infamous question, "do you want to be healed?" I think some do not, but I would find it reprehensible to not try to help all for fear of helping some. I just don't feel comfortable enough in my ability to make that distinction. wheat, tares, and stuff...

It doesn't seem to me that the responsibility of helping people rests with one entity... me or my groups,the government or the church, but with all who are capable.

At 12:10 AM, Blogger Telmeimrong said...

Lowell, what give you the right and wisdom to declare The Iraq war immoral and then deny the same right to me. I am convinced that high taxes and free meals to the lazy are immoral. Who is right? Seems the Bible says something about working and eating. Or is that one of those values of Jesus that you don't like to talk about.

Scott, Wheat are tares wasn't a story about charity. And I hope you realize that there is a limit to how much the government can spend. Unless you want to go back to the times of Carter with 70% tax brackets.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger scott said...

I agree with you. I don't think Jesus was talking directly about charity either, but you know it's hard for me to be absolutely certain. However, I think the message can be applied to this discussion.

Nothing says "America" like landed aristocracy.


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