Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Brother's Not Heavy. Jesus Said So.


I’ve been thinking about the cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) last week. Remember the House voted 217 to 210 to separate SNAP from the farm bill. The legislation that passed will significantly reduce SNAP funding in the next four years.

Good! Too many people abuse that program. Too many people sit around- expecting handouts.

Do you really think that? Do you truly believe the majority of food stamp (SNAP) recipients are just sitting around, doing nothing, and waiting for the mail?

Yes, I do. I’ve been to the grocery store on the day the benefits come out. It’s crazy.

Did you think it might be because people didn’t have the funds to go shopping prior to that day? Maybe their spare cash went to rent or a car payment.

Or to cable or to pay for an iPhone.

What would satisfy you in this scenario? There are genuinely people who cannot make ends meet. Do you care at all about that?

Let them get a second job.

Who will watch their kids during that time?

Maybe they should have thought about that before they had kids.

*Sigh*.
You know, the gospel reading for this Sunday is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. You know the one where the rich man feasts every day in expensive clothes and there’s a starving, sick man outside his doorstep whom the rich man ignores. Maybe he doesn’t even ignore Lazarus. Maybe he truly doesn’t see him.
Anyway, Lazarus dies and the angels carry him to be with Abraham. The rich man dies and goes to a place of torment. When he asks Abraham to send Lazarus with water, Abraham informs the rich man that the chasm between them could not be breeched.
Furthermore, Lazarus can’t go to warn the man’s brothers what happens if they are not good stewards of the gifts with which they have been endowed. They already have Moses and the prophets to do that.

What does this have to with SNAP? Or are you trying to change the subject because you were losing?

No, we always think about how Lazarus would have loved the crumbs from the rich man’s table. We make a big deal about how little the rich man could have done and how much it would have helped them both. But, in truth, SNAP is just table scraps, it’s nothing but crumbs. Congress could have passed that legislation and it would have been the merest noblesse oblige, but they couldn’t be bothered to do even that.

You always want to give other people’s money away.

No. I want to distribute God’s gifts. We can’t just throw out scraps or cast-off clothing or donate an old car and consider our duty done. There’s no justice in that.

Where’s the justice in feeding someone who doesn’t work?

Fine. There are people who cheat. There are all cheaters at all levels of society, but our almost single-minded focus on those in the lower economic bracket is gross and misguided. If you want people to NOT use SNAP and other assistance programs, we have to start sooner. We have to work on schools and neighborhoods and our justice system. We have to actually care enough about our neighbors to want to see them flourish and to help them do it.

Why?

Would you show up at a barn raising and throw a sack of nails across the floor and call it good?

No. I wouldn’t go to a barn raising at all. I don’t care about someone else’s barn.

And why would you? Their barn is their problem. They need to get it up by themselves. Fill it by themselves. And then feed themselves from it. Just like you do.

Yes.

Where do you get your seeds?

From the farm supply.

That’s cheating. Make them yourself.

But-

NO! You can’t have help. You have to make the seeds yourself. And it’s going to be a bitch building your own tractor. Let me know how you’re going to figure out smelting your own iron and making the rubber for the engine gaskets.

It’s not a subtle point you’re making.

It must be. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the same fight all the time. No one is self-made. There is a fundamental human community that must be recognized so that life for EVERYONE can improve. Lazarus and the rich man must learn to see one another, accept help from one another, and truly desire the wellbeing of one another.

But doesn’t Jesus say, “There will always be poor among you.” If I help the poor, aren’t I proving Jesus wrong? You wouldn’t want that.

Jesus isn’t proscribing a permanent situation. He’s speaking about a specific instance wherein his body could be honored- when people could actually honor the body of God. (Mark 14:7) He goes on to mention you can help the poor ANYTIME, but you shouldn’t fail to do so- under the guise of “giving to God”.

You just have all the answers, don’t you.

No, I don’t. But I do believe God expects us to help our neighbors. And I believe that God grieves when we miss clear opportunities to lift other people up into freedom and hope. Cutting SNAP is exactly the kind of thing that causes pain and is the evidence of a society with misplaced priorities.

Do you want people to be on assistance forever?

No. I dare to dream of something bigger- where people have enough to eat and aren’t afraid of getting sick and are able to save and have dreams for themselves. I dream of the possibility of joy. Not happiness, but joy. True gospel joy that flourishes in security and trust. Not flat happiness that is fleeting and based on momentary stability that can be snatched away. We must all want that enough for our neighbors and want it more than we want money or goods or services.

What if I don’t?

Then maybe you need to revisit Luke 16.