Imagine that you are the greeter at the door of a party. There are two groups of people who want to get in. We’ll call one of the groups, The Blue Angels. And we’ll call the other group… Group Two. The host would like you to let all of the Blue Angels in; and none of the people in Group Two in.

But there’s a problem. You can’t tell the difference between the two groups. And any system you come up with that lets all of the Blue Angels in, will also let in some of the members of Group Two. And any system that keeps all of the members of Group Two out, will also keep some of the Blue Angels out.

What do you do?

This week, the New York Times published a quiz titled Could You Manage as a Poor American? It’s just four questions, and they reveal a lot:

Do you have paper mail that you plan to read that you’ve left unopened for more than a week? About a quarter of Americans do. It’s easy to grab the mail from the box, and walk in the door, and set the mail down so I can take out the dog, and then get distracted by Mariah coming home, and I really should get started on dinner, and…

And then the mail sits there. And I pass by it on my way out the door. And I think I’ll remember to open it when I get home. And I don’t. And I miss out on the sale, and the envelope goes in the recycling bin, and it’s no big deal.

But if I were on Medicaid or food assistance, and I didn’t respond to a piece of mail fast enough, that could mean losing Medicaid or food assistance.

Have you ever failed to pay a bill on time? Have you ever gotten a piece of mail from the government that you didn’t understand? Have you ever missed a doctor’s appointment? Each of those mistakes, just once, can cost someone Medicaid assistance… or Social Security Disability assistance… or food assistance.

And that’s just a snapshot… through a keyhole… that shows one little slice of one little slice of living in poverty and trying to get help. Being poor is work. There is paperwork to submit. There is proof to provide. There are appointments to attend. Again and again and again.

And one mistake or one obstacle can cost someone everything.

And here’s the kicker: we keep making those programs harder to navigate. We add work requirements and health screenings and documentation. And the harder it gets, and the more we learn about how hard it is, the more those of us who aren’t using those programs support them.

After all, only the people who really need the help—only the people who are truly desperate for that help—would actually do all of the work to get it.

We have built whole systems for keeping Group Two out. Even if that means the Blue Angels can’t get in. That’s true when it comes to assistance for people living in poverty… and immigration… and all sorts of other things. 

In this morning’s reading, Jesus sets foot on the shore and the crowd is there. In that crowd is a man named Jairus, who comes to Jesus, and falls at his feet, and begs him for help, “My daughter is at death’s door. Please, come and heal her. Please, let her live.” And Jesus goes with him.

So Jesus and Jairus start walking to Jairus’s house. And the crowd… follows.

In that crowd is a woman who has been sick with hemorrhages for twelve years. She has spent all of her money on doctors. She hasn’t gotten any better. She is at the end of her rope.

And she thinks, “If I could just touch his clothes—if I could just touch the hem of his cloak—that would heal me. It would take so little. And I could just grab it.” So she works her way through the crowd… she touches his cloak… and she knows

She knows that her hemorrhages have stopped. She knows that her sickness has gone away. She knows that everything will be better now.

And Jesus… is surprised

You see, this woman did not come to Jesus. She did not fall at his feet. She did not beg him for help. She just knew that she needed help. And she trusted that Jesus would help her.

And he did… almost without knowing it.

After the woman touches his cloak—after her hemorrhages stop, after her sickness goes away—Jesus senses that power has gone out of him. And he has to ask, “Who touched me?”

And the woman steps forward, and falls down, and tells him everything. And Jesus says, pretty much, “Okay. You’re healed. Go in peace.”

Jesus and Jairus continue walking to Jairus’s house. And the crowd… follows. And someone runs up and tells Jesus and Jairus that they can just stop, Jairus’s daughter has died. But that doesn’t stop Jesus. He goes to Jairus’s house. He revives Jairus’s daughter. And Jairus knows… everything will be better now.

The people in the crowd know who Jairus is. He is one of the leaders of the local synagogue. He is an important man and that means that his daughter is an important girl. And even he came to Jesus and fell at his feet and begged. He is the right kind of person; he did the right kind of thing. He is a Blue Angel. And when a Blue Angel comes to the healer, the healer helps. That’s who Jairus is.

And, maybe, the people in the crowd know who the woman is. She’s… a woman… with the hemorrhages, everything she owns ends up with blood on it. She spent all of her money on doctors and they haven’t helped her at all. Where does she live? I don’t know. How does she find money to live? I don’t know. What’s her name? I don’t… I don’t know.

And she worked her way through the crowd and brushed up against Jesus.

She is not the right kind of person; she did not do the right thing. She is in Group Two. That’swho the woman is.

And when we see a Blue Angel and someone from Group Two in front of Jesus, we know exactly what’s going to happen. When the right kind of person does the right kind of thing because he needs help, Jesus helps. And when the wrong kind of person brushes up against him because she needs help, Jesus helps. That’s who Jesus is.

And we follow him. He is Christ. We are Christians. It’s right there in the name.

There are so many ways that we are greeters at the door: the door to help, the door to safety, the door to opportunity; the door to friendship and care and love; the door to the church.

And we look at the crowd and sort people into Blue Angels… and Group Twos. And we create systems and we hope. We hope that all of the Blue Angels will get in, and we hope that none of the Group Twos will sneak by. And we compromise. We let a few Group Twos in so that we can get all the Blue Angels in; or we keep a few Blue Angels out so that we can keep all of the Group Twos out.

Sometimes we do that in big ways. And sometimes we do that in little ways. But we do it.

And we don’t do it because the host asked us to. We do it because we choose to. We do it because a little voice gets in our heads and turns us the wrong way; a little voice gets in our heads and says, “You could decide who’s in and who’s out. You could decide who’s good and who’s bad. You could be like gods.”

But here’s the thing: if you want to know what God is like—if you want to know what God would do—you look at Jesus and what he did.

And when a big-name man came to Jesus and fell at his feet and begged for help, Jesus helped. And when a no-name woman snuck up at touched the hem of his cloak, Jesus helped. Because that is Jesus’s character. That is Jesus’s nature. That is who he is.

And so that is who we are called to be: greeters at the door, saying, “This way is salvation. No matter who you are, and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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