This is a guest post from my father, Jim Hatch, who lives in St. Louis, MO, USA.
Our handyman lives down the street. He mows our lawn, does odd jobs and has become a friend. He collects aluminum cans over time and and sells them to add to his meager income. So we save our cans for him. Walking in nearby Forest Park recently I noticed after a busy weekend scores of aluminum cans in and around trash cans. So as I walk Millie, our dog, I take an extra plastic bag for cans — I already take a couple bags for Millie! So I cruise by the trash cans, glance in to see if cans were convenient to the surface and add them to my bag.
One day I got ready to take a can out of the trash. But I stopped. And walked on. It happened again. There was a can. But I walked on. Why? I was embarrassed.
Nearby were some ‘cool’ people. Other walkers in spiffy outfits, bikers, a poodle walked by with a sweet little old guy, a couple of ladies with official bundles walking into the Muni (St. Louis’ historic outdoor musical theater). I knew they all might see me digging into the trash. I was embarrassed.
“What’s wrong with you?!” I asked myself. “It’s legitimate…it’s recycling…it’s helping our friend. What’s the big deal?!”
And then it hit me. I WAS EMBARRASSED TO BE IDENTIFIED WITH THE POOR.
After all, I’m NOT the kind who has to dig into the trash for what I need. I’m respectable. I’m makin’ it. I’m not poor. And they will think I’m poor.
You might know it. I then remembered the one who asks me to invite the poor to my feasts. Who himself had no place to lay his head, though the animals of the woods all have their dens and burrows. The one who came to proclaim good news to the poor. Who ultimately became poor that I through his poverty might become rich.
The poor. The very ones Jesus loves. And I’m embarrassed to seen as one of them. Forgive me.
I wonder if there are others around me I’m embarrassed to be identified with. Who are those I would not want my close friends to see me with? Seems like those are the very ones Jesus wants me to love. Increasingly in our polarized culture, there will be others who some believers will think we should not closely identify with or love. After all, they’ll say, isn’t to identify with to approve of? At least that’s what the conservative religious leaders of Jesus day felt about his associations.
What about choosing to identify with the poor? One seminary student I know chose to ride public transportation to school in order purposely to get to know people different from him. A friend challenged me recently, “If your church planters always hang out at Starbucks, no wonder they know no poor people; that’s not where the poor hang out.” “Where should planters hang out?” I asked. “What about choosing to do their laundry regularly at a laundromat?” she responded. Hmmmm. Choosing to identify with the poor.
Maybe it’ll help if I remember how deeply Jesus identified with me!
May the Lord help us from letting the modern day Pharisees — but especially our own pride — keep us from identifying with all those he loves, especially the poor.
Jim Hatch recruits church planters for Mission to North America; email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments.