Our Most Unlikely Teachers, And Why We Need Them


NOTE: I also posted a short reflection and question on my Facebook page in relation to the subject matter below. If you would like to view and/or add to the comments on my Facebook feed, you can do so by clicking here.



What if our reluctance to wake up to our calling toward the poor is because we don’t see straight?

What if, instead of being a burden, the poor are actually one of God’s greatest gifts to us? What if the poor, like little children, are among our most competent teachers about things that matter most in life, about the nature of how God’s kingdom works, and about what we can carry with us when our present life comes to an end?

These words from Bishop N.T. Wright can help us:

“Don’t let the world leave its dirty smudge on you. The world is always assessing people, sizing them up, putting them down, establishing a pecking order. And God, who sees and loves all alike, wants the church to reflect [his] generous, universal love in how it behaves.”
(N.T. Wright, James for Everyone)

Similarly, a Catholic leader is quoted as saying:

“All life has inestimable value, even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn, and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost respect and reverence.”

Every person is a masterpiece of God’s creation. In truth, no person is a drain on the system or a burden to society. No people group can legitimately be dismissed or ignored or discarded or forgotten. All of us are masterpieces. All of us are crowns of God’s creation, made just a little less than the angels and carriers of the divine imprint (Psalm 8:5-7).

It turns out that being poor is no more a curse from God than being rich is a blessing from God. Material wealth is neither moral nor immoral and is neither a sign of God’s blessing nor a sign of God’s curse.

So, could it be that in the same way that receiving more material wealth can bring relief to many who are poor, having less material wealth can bring relief to many who are rich? Maybe the blessing of doing justly and loving mercy goes two ways instead of just one. Maybe a true blessing is received by those who lose net worth through acts of generosity and care as much as it is received by others in need who gain.

Austrian businessman, Karl Raebeder, after giving his entire $5.3 million fortune away to charity, said the following in an interview:

“For a long time I believed that more wealth and luxury automatically meant more happiness…But over time a conflicting feeling developed. More and more I heard the words, ‘Stop what you’re doing now—all this luxury and consumerism—and start your real life.’ I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things that I did not wish for or need…It was the biggest shock in my life when I realized how horrible, soulless, and without feeling the five-star lifestyle is…we spent all the money you could possibly spend. But in all that time we had the feeling we hadn’t met a single real person—that we were all just actors. The staff played the role of being friendly and [we] played the role of being important, and nobody was real.”

Since giving his entire fortune away to charity, Rabeder said he has felt “free, the opposite of heavy.” It turns out that some of the world’s biggest burdens are carried by the rich as well as the poor.

“Blessed are you who are poor,” Jesus said, “for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).

Karl Raebeder helps us see that material wealth is not our salvation or the answer to all of life’s problems. And Jesus, who himself was poor, helps us see that the poor are not merely recipients of charity. On the contrary, they have something unique to offer to the rest of the world. The poor teach us what it looks like for human beings to live from a place of need. For it is only from a place of need that we can discover a freedom that is “the opposite of heavy.” It is only from a place of need that we can discover that Jesus’ yoke is easy, and his burden is light:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30)

Becoming involved with our neighbors who are poor can teach us—all of us—to remember that the only true salvation is the kind that comes from outside ourselves and that results in the humble admission that we are not as strong and self-sufficient as we think we are. Being among the poor can teach us that in God’s kingdom the way up is down and spiritual wealth can only be acquired from a place of prior spiritual bankruptcy. In the faces and stories of the weak and dependent, Jesus invites all who are weary to come to him for rest.

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2 responses to “Our Most Unlikely Teachers, And Why We Need Them”

  1. John says:

    Thanks for this; a really meaningful reminder.

  2. Patrick McClarty says:

    I struggled with what you wrote here. I work Room at the Inn and see some of these men and women. It is hard for me to believe that is God’s best for them. Granted, many of them have severe mental problems, and those are not who I am talking about. I’m talking about men in 20s-40s who have made drastically wrong choices. They can be saved, redeemed, and their lives can change. But, they have to choose to do that. Most that I deal with do not want to change. I pray they will see what God can do for them. There are services in Nashville, such as Rescue Mission and Room at the Inn, that will work with them to turn their lives around.

    There are the working poor, and maybe that is those whom you are talking about. If so, I totally agree. They work hard everyday for their families, but due to the job they have, it is difficult. These folks are blessed of God, usually many of the finest people I meet. They love God, love their family, and give of themselves for others when they don’t have a lot themselves.

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