There are times when I find myself in some peculiar places. Looking for some of the folks I try to keep track of on the streets has involved knocking on tents, walking into abandoned buildings, and looking under tarps and blankets. In seminary they teach theology, concepts of Christian counseling, administration, and the Bible. We learn servanthood, a heart for the poor, and to notice the least of these from following in the footsteps of Jesus. We learn to have a heart for the poor from the Mother Teresa’s and the Paul Stensrud’s of the world.
Putting on the eyes of Jesus means we do more than notice the poor. Putting on the eyes of Jesus means we actually see the poor, identify them as unique in the image of God, and that we bring good news to them. Jesus cared deeply about the poor and the downtrodden. He demonstrated his mercy in tangible ways: giving sight to the blind, touching the leper, binding up the brokenhearted, and healing the sick. Jesus considered the poor to be a central part of his ministry. The Messiah’s mission was to bring good news to the poor and Jesus did just that. My pursuit of placing myself where Jesus would be if he were here has led me to places I’d never dreamed I’d be.
Jesus tells a story in Luke chapter 16:19-31 of a Rich Man and Lazarus. He says, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all of this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” “No,” Father Abraham, he said, “But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Abraham said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Money and material possessions do not impress God. Power, position, and prosperity are not necessarily signs of God’s blessing. The Rich Man was dressed in purple and fine linen, and he lived in luxury every day. In the eyes of society, success and gain are often associated with blessing. This story of Jesus calls us to reassess our idea of blessing. God’s Kingdom blessing is not associated with outward image and financial wherewithal. If the Rich Man was a follower of God he would have brought Lazarus inside, fed him, clothed him, and gave him medical attention for his condition.
Lazarus was a poor beggar who was covered in sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Society would have conceded that God was not with Lazarus. Society would see signs of poverty, hunger, and despair as a removal of God’s favor. However, God’s blessing comes from inward righteousness and holiness not in outward image. Jesus is drawing attention to the disparity of how the world sees things and how God sees things.
We may believe, as Christians, that God is far from drug addicts, prostitutes, trap houses, and homeless encampments. The people in these situations and locations may feel far from God but we can be assured that God has not removed himself from them. In fact, these are the very places that God has focused his full attention. God draws himself to places where the Kingdom can be won or lost. God’s attention is on souls that hang in the balance. We would do well, as Christians, to match God’s intention and attention.
A trap house is an abandoned house that is used as a place for people to use drugs free from the public eye. As I walked through one such place it was dark, smelled of urine, and I heard people moving around. I called out and identified myself and to my surprise “Big Country” came out of a dark room and hugged me, enveloped in the smell of last night’s alcohol.
I asked, “Have you seen Dottie?”
He said, “I think she’s in the back room with another guy.”
I walked back through the hallway and called out her name. I heard through the darkness, “I’m here.”
I stepped in the doorway and said, “I’ve been worried about you. People haven’t seen you in over a month.”
She replied, “I’ve been around.”
I asked, “Can I pray for you?”
She said, “Yes.”
I prayed there that day with Dottie and a man I couldn’t see due to the darkness. God was there. When I said, “Amen” I heard “Big Country” from another room say, “Amen.” God’s light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it! We are God’s light and we are called to shine in dark places!