I hadn’t noticed until recently that the Bible tends to command us to take care of our ‘brothers and sisters’ (ie other Christians) before providing general relief to the poor. I find that an interesting challenge.
Firstly, I think I have always thought that the role of the church was to make society better – we want people to come to know Jesus; they won’t accept our claims to have found the truth unless they see our transformed lives; one key way to demonstrate the transforming power of God is to get involved in caring for the poor and seeking justice; therefore we should be out on the streets demonstrating God’s power and love to those we meet.
I still think that is right, but perhaps the emphasis James and others put on caring for those in our family reflects the fact that in some ways it is easier to go out to the streets and ‘do good’ publicly, and in short bursts than it is to walk the long, slow road of unemployment, drug rehabilitation, loneliness or illness with those you see day after day, week after week.
Serving at my local Foodbank once a month is fun and fulfilling – I know I am providing something valuable to the individuals and families who come through the door, and it is building a good reputation for the church and for God in that community. The people with complex financial, physical and emotional needs who are part of my church, though – those I find more difficult and, to my shame, I tend to keep my distance.
And the fact that there are at best a tiny handful of people in my church that fit that description is a sad reflection that I am not alone.
I’m feeling convicted by this today…I hope it lasts, and turns into a transformed attitude.