A recent story called “Christians are more than twice as likely to blame a person’s poverty on lack of effort” caught my eye.
Sadly, I wasn’t surprised.
Many self-styled Christians have become expert at justifying why they ignore Jesus’ life and his teachings.
They recognize that Jesus commands us to be passionate about those in need — that’s unavoidable. But they create a way around the command by suggesting poor people aren’t really poor, they’re simply lazy, so we can ignore them.
Or they suggest that Jesus’ passion for the poor is a personal mandate that doesn’t apply to anything we do collectively. They make it normal to exclude Jesus’ values from our politics, our government, our economy, our business, our society, and yes, even our religion.
We Christians are tempted to confine Jesus’ message to such a small part of our lives that it’s effectively neutered.
We then can live by opposite values — self-importance, money, power, privilege — in most areas of our lives. And we call it Christian.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying this to judge, but to challenge an attitude that’s in you and me. We all like to feel that we “deserve” what we have, and those who are struggling simply are unworthy.
We comfort ourselves by thinking that we are better and more deserving. This gives us the permission to be concerned entirely about ourselves.
Jesus challenges that attitude directly and unreservedly. He asks us to stop passing judgment about who “deserves” our concern. He commands that we love everyone equally.
Jesus’ directive forces us to confront our judgments about others. We all do it in different ways and degrees. We see someone in need, and part of us recoils and justifies our discomfort. We allow ourselves to think they deserve their fate because they made bad choices. We think we deserve what we have because we made better choices.
Jesus reminds us repeatedly: That’s what you need to work on. Stop being so judgmental. Take the plank out of your own eye — it's a barrier to love. Stop thinking that you can play God — you’re can't.
Instead, try to love others unconditionally the way God does.
Love never judges whether someone deserves our compassion. It responds the way the father treats the returning prodigal son — he’s deemed worthy no matter what bad choices he’s made.
We need to be more like the father.
When you see a hungry person, you feed them and spend time with them. When you visit someone in prison, you sit, listen, and learn about them without judging why they are there.
Those moments of unreserved giving change you. You begin to see things differently. You understand that your judgments were wrong. You become more loving.
You gain a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ message that we must wash the feet of everyone — yes, including the ones who would make horrible decisions and betray or deny us. They need our love, too.
Everyone deserves our love, especially those whom the “religious” people deem unworthy — tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers, the homeless, the beggars, the sick, the mentally ill, the despairing.
Love them because that’s what grace is about. None of us deserves God’s grace to any degree, but all of us receive it in abundance every day, no questions asked.
Be more like God. Love one another. Leave any judging to the God who is love.