He has been working since he was a teenager. He graduated from high school, went to college, graduated, got a good job with a good company, married, had children, and bought a house. He brings his children to Sunday school and contributes to and volunteers at his church's food pantry.
Then the recession hit. He lost a substantial portion of his 401K. His house lost much of its value; now he owes more on the house than it is worth on today's housing market. To add insult to injury, his company downsized, and now he has been out of work for months. When he lost his job, he also lost his health insurance. He wife works, but she works a few hours short of the 40-hours necessary to make her eligible for health benefits. She still works, but her salary with his unemployment is not nearly enough to pay the bills. The savings went unbelievably fast.
The family cut back on extras -- movies, dinner out, cable television. All the credit cards are very near the limit. The last auto repair bill had to be spread across all three cards. Sometimes he and his wife find themselves paying for groceries and gasoline with the credit cards. Family and friends have been generous, but times are hard for everyone. He pushed his pride aside and accepted a holiday basket from the food pantry where he still volunteers.
He is a computer specialist, and he thought that with his skills and work history that it would not take him long to find a job. But it has been months upon endless months. Some prospective employers say he is over qualified. Now he tailors his resume to suit each job for which he applies. He has sent out countless resumes, followed up on every lead, attended every job fair within a day's driving distance from his house. Nothing.
It makes him angry when he hears politicians and pundits say that unemployment benefits cause people to postpone job hunting until their benefits are about to end. They do not have to face his children as he and his wife explain that they will have to forgo their favorite cable shows or that they cannot go with their friends on this or that outing. They have no idea that when he lost his job, he also lost the community of people who were his friends at work. They do not feel the personal humiliation of not being able to give his children the simple things that they were accustomed to. They do not know the anxiety of not knowing how long he and his wife will be able to keep their house, a house they have made into a home. It is a home that is filled with their hopes and dreams.
He reads the Book of Job and tries to remember that God is still God. And grown men do cry. Now his unemployment insurance is running out and his elected representatives are arguing that unemployment insurance for him and for millions of his fellow citizens in the same position cannot be extended unless they are "paid for." They argue that the budget deficit is too high. At the same time, they are willing to extend tax cuts for the richest people in the United States. He has worked hard, paid taxes, and lived as a contributing, responsible citizen for his entire life. Now his government is turning its back on him at the time of his most desperate need.
This man is Jesus.
(Please call your members of Congress today and ask for an extension of unemployment benefits: 202-225-3121. Matt. 25:40)
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.