Approach poverty as a disciple of Jesus

Stefan Carlson reminds us of our call to help the poor.


Katie Juranek

| Heather Leith/THE CHIMES

Stefan Carlson, Writer

Junior Mary Cabrera and senior Reina Berumen talk with Jim, a homeless man that they met while seriving in Long Beach with Brown Bag ministry in the spring of 2012. | Heather Leith/THE CHIMES]


When Christmastime rolls around, it is a tradition for the Carlson family to make an excursion to downtown Seattle to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city during the holiday season. The trip usually includes hot chocolate, a carousel and a ride around town on a horse-drawn carriage.

During one such outing, I was headed back to the van with my family as our festive evening came to a close. I saw a few dark figures out of the corner of my eye. They were standing together against the building on my left as I walked down the sidewalk. As usual, I tried to avoid making eye contact. I was cold and tired and my feet hurt. All I could think about was the warmth and comfort of our car. But one of the dark figures approached me.

If he had gone to my high school, his black clothes and silver chains would have earned him the label “goth.” His face was pale and gaunt. His eyes were shadowy and sunken in, and he was missing teeth. It looked as though addiction had caused the sickly look on his face. He asked me if I had any money. I knew I had change in my pocket, but I thought he probably just wanted to buy some cigarettes. My family was slowly making their way toward that warm, cozy vehicle without me. Besides, what good would a couple quarters do anyway? I rationalized for a second or two. Then I glanced at him, mumbled “sorry” and walked away.

When I consider the poverty that surrounds us, I can’t help but ask the question: What does it mean to follow Jesus? This summer I came to the gospel of Luke asking this question. There were two passages in particular that struck me in a fresh way. In Luke 12:33 Jesus tells his disciples to sell their possessions and give to the poor. Later on in Luke 14:12-14, Jesus is eating a meal at a Pharisee’s house and tells him to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind into his house for banquets, rather than inviting his friends, brothers, relatives and rich neighbors.

Although much could be said about these passages, there are two observations that I believe must be pointed out. The first is that Jesus doesn’t talk about poverty as if it were the responsibility of a select few. He doesn’t say “if you feel called” or “if you have enough time.” These commands are for every single one of us.

The second observation to be made is the method Jesus describes. We spend so much time developing ministries, programs and organizations — which can be very good things. But I wonder what would happen if we all just did what Jesus said. What if every Jesus follower sold his or her possessions to meet the needs of the people in their community? What if every single one of us sought out society’s rejects and had them over for dinner? The picture that comes to my head is neither convenient nor comfortable, which is probably why I haven’t heard a whole lot of sermons about these passages. However, if we were to lay down our obsession with convenience and comfort I believe we would see transformation, restoration and new life as a result.

The hardest part for me is just figuring out where to start. Maybe you’re out to eat and you see a single mom pan handling so you invite her to eat with you and you pool your money with your friends to buy food and diapers for her kids. Or maybe you stop and talk to the guy begging at the intersection and invite him over for lunch at your house. The possibilities are endless but hopefully that helps to get the creative juices flowing.

By now you may have quite a hefty list of excuses standing between you and change. I know I’ve got a pretty solid list of my own that still keeps me from action, but I think we all must be very careful not to write off the words of Jesus. As disciples we gave up on picking and choosing our way through his words when we called him Lord.

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