Statistics tell us that nearly 50 million Americans live below the ‘poverty level’ today. I’m not sure how accurate that number is as many such statistics are “massaged” for a variety of reasons; however it is obvious that there is a poverty problem in America. While it is sometimes difficult to understand how so many could be poor in the richest nation in the world, the fact is that they are. To be sure, some are there because of their own bad decisions or laziness, but many others are there because of a sluggish economy, illness or a million other reasons which are completely out of their control.
It’s impossible not to see the poverty problem today. There are people on nearly every street corner asking for money. It is no longer uncommon to be approached in other public places by those asking for “spare change”. The church receives continual calls from complete strangers asking us to pay for everything from rent to car notes to smart phone bills. The truth is that you don’t have to look very hard to see people in need.
It is certainly tragic that while we see many hurting in our society, we also see many seeking to take advantage of the generosity of men. The sad truth is that there are plenty of people who have no problem scamming others. These are professional thieves who are no different than those who break into houses or cars. In fact, the only difference is that these use the good and sympathetic nature of people as the tools of their larceny rather than a crowbar. However, the result is the same. Whether someone lies to you about needing money to pay for their wife’s medical bills or whether they grab your purse after using a coat hanger to break into your car…either way they have stolen from you.
One of the results of so many scammers is that generous people become hardened to the plight of the poor because it can get to the point where you don’t really know if you are helping someone in need or helping someone who is a thief. Consequently, some Christians find it increasingly difficult to have the right attitude towards helping the poor and let’s be clear – that is NOT a good thing. In fact, it is a very spiritually dangerous attitude to have. In the great Judgment Day scene in Matthew 25, Jesus said that those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, took in strangers, clothed the naked and visited the sick and imprisoned would be welcomed into their eternal reward with these words, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40). Of course the opposite is also seen in the passage as well. Those who didn’t give to the “least of these” were told in V41, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The message is crystal clear: To please God, His people must give generously to those in need.
Harvest Sunday is one of the truly great works of the church that Jesus built that meets in Jersey Village. It is one of many opportunities for us to give to “the least of these”. When we see the entire stage area of the auditorium filled with grocery bags, we are reminded of Jesus’ words in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” What a blessing it is to be able to give to those in need! May God open our eyes to the plight of the poor and keep our hearts soft so that we can always find joy in the simple pleasure of helping the least of these.