The countless number of things that heartlessly ravage "the least of these" in our world is overwhelming to someone reading about them for the first time, or even overwhelming to someone who has no idea how to go about alleviating the world's pain. As Christians, we must not stick our heads in the sand and pretend that the world is doing fine just because we are. We must not turn our eyes away like the priest and the Levite in the story of the good Samaritan, walking by those suffering on the other side of the road - our neighbors. We must face the brutal facts about poverty and injustice - only then can we take the first steps to respond.
There is something so much greater at work here! If you ache for a better world but are engulfed by a sense of hopelessness, I have some really really good news for you! Centuries ago there was a man named Jesus who walked this messed up world too. In a time when the Romans were running the show, hope was in short supply for the Jewish people. It was in this context that the son of a carpenter from a town called Nazareth stood up in a local synagogue and read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah.
Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."...The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:17-21)
Imagine that you're a Jew back then listening to your local Home Depot guy say these things. Weird right? Isaiah had prophesied that a King was coming who would usher in a kingdom unlike anything the world had ever seen. Could it be that Isaiah's prophecies were really coming true with this guy? Was is really possible that justice, peace and righteousness were about to be established forever? Would this King really bring healing to the parched soil, the feeble hands, the shaky knees, the fearful hearts, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the mute, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the sinful souls, and would proclaim the year of jubilee for the poor? (Isaiah 35:1-6, 53:5, 61:1-2) Well Jesus' answer was a YES to that, declaring that "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
What a mission for one man! Of course the nature and work of Jesus Christ is much fuller than we can understand, using us now to do his work before he comes again. Stay tuned in October for a more complete picture of Jesus' mission and what it means for every human being on this planet.
In the meantime, check out a couple of really awesome books. When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is a great book moving from the foundational concepts about poverty (Who are the poor?), to principles (Should we do relief, rehab, or development?), to practical strategies. (How can we actually help the poor domestically? internationally?) Another great book is The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision US. (If you can't get this from me already, I LOVE World Vision!) It outlines Stearns' story of how he left worldly success for something far more significant, and discovered the full power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stearns uses his story to demonstrate how the whole gospel was and is always meant to be a world-changing social revolution, a revolution that begins with us.
Check them out somewhere, or hit me up if you want to borrow my copies!