[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and if you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]
An Outer Circle Church views the poor as people and don’t care that much about how they got that way.
“Of all the preposterous things nothing exceeds the criticisms of the habits of the poor by the well warmed, well housed, and well fed.” Herman Melville
The most spiritual Jews of Jesus’ day had an unspoken caste system of sorts that was partially based on geography. It mattered to them where you lived. Of course, they objected most to anyone who lived outside of the Holy Land – all Gentile dogs. A close second on the hated list were the cultist Samaritans who lived in what we call the West Bank today. What they believed was all wrong and one was better off keeping a healthy distance from them. Next, if you lived in Galilee you lived too far from Jerusalem and too close to the Gentile world for their taste and were therefore viewed with contempt. (That’s why they called it “Galilee of the Gentiles”).
There was one more region and people group, not so prominent in the New Testament, that in spite of the opinions of his fellow Jews, Jesus loved and reached out to – Perea on the other side of the Jordan. The spiritual elite viewed the Pereans, not so much with disdain, but with indifference. No one ever went to the other side of Jordan unless passing through to avoid Samaria. It was just a place to pass through and a people to pass by on your way to another place, a better place. The Pereans were their pariahs, persona non grata. They were an overlooked population in the days of Jesus. But Jesus spent a considerable amount of time, not just passing through, but pursuing those he loved there. Not surprisingly, Luke, the only Gentile who wrote books in the Bible, recorded more of Jesus’ teachings in Perea.
I make this point in order to ask us the question: Who do we overlook or blithely pass by on the way to someplace better where there are more important people than these Perean-types? Who are our “Pereans” – the unpersons that we simply don’t notice? I suggest that in the American Dream Churches the poor are often our Pereans, the ones who we unintentionally overlook if not actively avoid.
Maybe it’s because we overthink the reasons for someone’s destitution. After all, they may be addicts or thieves or sick with AIDS or Cirrhosis or lice! And why are they poor anyway? Why can’t they just get a job? Someone told me recently, “I struggle with the reasons why some people in this country are in such a destitute state and are out on the street begging.” He confessed that he was less sympathetic because he wondered whose fault it was that they were in their position. When he asked me how I dealt with that, I responded that if one is going to do community development among the urban poor, that’s a relevant issue. I said that since my assignment is more spiritual transformation than social renovation (which is a profoundly needed ministry in the city), in order to do my part I sort of have to put the causes of their destitution out of my mind. If I get hung up on why they’re poor I might forget to do what Jesus taught us to do – to serve and preach the good news to the poor. I don’t mean that I don’t care enough to listen carefully to their stories, most of them horrific and heart wrenching. I most certainly do. But in order to befriend them as fellow travellers, the reason for their poverty is not my main concern.
When I was in elementary school we did “show and tell” where we brought something from home to show to the class and tell about it. That’s our mission among the poor and the rich, to show his love in tangible ways and tell about him.
I think Outer Circle Churches just love their neighbors, especially the most disadvantaged ones, and let agape take them where it takes them.