Gnostic America

Thursday of Trinity 2: Is Christian Self-Loathing about Charity Justified?

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“So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ ”

Once the original recipients of the master’s invitation rudely rejected his banquet, he goes after the poor, maimed, lame, and blind. This obviously has at least a dual meaning. Today we meditate on the meaning at face value.

This is the meaning Jesus Himself just set up by His actions with the man with dropsy. That is, He just showed by example how to receive at the table those who are disabled by physical ailments. The Church must always be a receptive place for those who are at the zero point in terms of physical ailments, who come seeking rest from their suffering.

Christians, American Christians in particular, are addicted to beating themselves up over how deficient they are in whatever area of sanctification. We love to focus on how far we fall short of praying enough, giving enough, loving enough, being good enough Christians.

They inherit this from Puritanism, of which we are told by one clever theologian, “Puritanism took people off the treadmill of indulgences but put them on the iron couch of introspection.”

Yes, American Christians love to wallow in self-loathing. It also fosters America’s revivalistic spirit. To wit, “The church I grew up in is cold, hypocritical, uncaring, and loveless, which is why me and other woke Christians will be filled with the Spirit and begin a true, authentic, spirit-filled church which has recaptured the true Christian mission.” Until they hit middle ages, and then, “Wash, rinse, and repeat” all over again with their children.

Which is all to say, when we hear Jesus teaching about receiving the poor, maimed, lame, and blind, I can already hear all the sermons about how loveless and cold and unwelcoming we are to visitors, and how we’re responsible for all the millennials leaving church, and how we’d better shape up and be true to our Christian roots or else Christ will spit us out.

Bunk!

I don’t mean this to pat ourselves on the back. But why does every teaching of Jesus have to be some big, dramatic, “I have sinned!” moment followed by a similarly dramatic, “I’ve turned my life around and now I spend all my moments dedicated to the poor.” Again, this fits the American ethos, which knows nothing of moderation. How about the example of the seed that Jesus uses? He plants the seed that we should help the poor, and sure, we can always do better, but yet, my bet is most Christians care more about the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind than they’d give themselves credit for.

I’ve seen the care Christians have for members of their church who are poor, maimed, lame, and blind. I’ve seen the amount of giving older Christians (because like it or not, we are about to hit a massive charitable giving decline as the older generations die off) donate to charities, private hospitals and schools, and other such entities. Christian charity as done by the older, “institutional” churches may not be dramatic and noticed by everyone – didn’t Jesus teach something about that? – but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been going on, in some cases at astoundingly praiseworthy levels.

Beyond that, Jesus is making a larger point about what the church is to be about as regards the poor the maimed, the lame, and the blind. Jewish Law as misinterpreted at the time put into question whether God’s people should receive those who most need the Lord’s grace. As Jesus pointed out, this was ridiculous, given the Law wasn’t even interpreted this way for animals. Are not people of more value than animals?

Jesus’ bigger point is about doctrine. Does our doctrine receive the beggar? That leads into the deeper meaning of the parable (which we’ll get into with the next meditation), but it also has bearing at the literal point. It’s because the doctrine of the Gospel receives all spiritual beggars that the church needs to be receptive of literal beggars.

This is our doctrine, and yes, people don’t always live up to it. Yes, often Christians will confess themselves to be horrific sinners in the abstract, but in actuality – as demonstrated by their attitude to truly hurting people – they take an attitude of, “Hey, I lifted myself up by the bootstraps and succeeded awesomely, so why can’t you?” So what is it, is sin a problem at our core that turns us into true beggars throughout our days? Or is sin something we overcome with a little “I think I can, I think I can” and therefore we’re not really in that beggar state anymore?

If the former, why don’t we accept that there are people – real poor, maimed, lame, and blind – who are in their conditions due to whatever infirmity they inherited at birth: a physical ailment, a mental or psychological ailment, an ailment of family dysfunction, an original sin ailment.

These are things to contemplate, as far as living out our doctrine goes, but they are not an indictment of our doctrine, which Jesus is focusing on.

So, we can take today’s meditation as the growth of the seed. Are we living up to our doctrine regarding the beggars? Jesus compares the poor, maimed, lame, and blind (like the man with dropsy) to an ox or donkey falling into a pit. He doesn’t compare them to spider monkeys. Which animal he uses tells a lot of how He understands our fallen condition. I’m an ox fallen down into a pit, not an agile spider monkey who can easily get out.

I know that to be true for me. I doctrinally confess that to be true for me. Now, do I apply that standard to those who come through the church doors, the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind? If not, that is an area in which Christ’s seed will grow.

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