The rain falls

You’ve heard it, right?

“The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

We quote it quite often to imply that bad things happen to good people, but do we possibly have it backward? Rain could mean blessings, after all it takes rain to grow a crop and to provide a break from the drought. In fact, with the exception of the flood, rain is not depicted as a bad thing. So what of this verse? Well, let’s start by reading it in context.

“In this way you show that you are children of your Father in heaven. He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)

Why is Jesus having this conversation? What is He teaching? He’s teaching about love. More importantly, He is talking about loving your enemies. See, we are an “either/or”,” this or that” society and culture. But Jesus was in an “either/and” as well as a “this and this” culture. Many times in order to emphasize something it was said a multitude of times, three times would be the ultimate number of repetitions. In this moment with the disciples Jesus is in the process of telling them and retelling them that God provides blessing (the sun rising) and blessing (the rain fall) on the just and the unjust. That’s important!

This same conversation is recorded in Luke, and He words it a little differently (and since He’s a doctor, maybe a little more intellectually.)

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

Ahhh. The and with the and. “He is kind (the sun shines, the rain falls) to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Wait. Matthew puts the “unjust” in there, but Luke says overwhelmingly, “the wicked.” We know it is the same conversation, the same teaching.. So why the different verbiage? Maybe it has more to do with the writer than the Speaker.

Who is Matthew? A formerly, notoriously unjust man, a tax collector. He is there as Jesus is sharing this story about loving your enemies (of which he knows he was one) and as He speaks, Matthew is experiencing blessing! Not only was God kind to him, He had chosen him as a follower and cohort and put him in charge of the money! Okay. That’s like the the alcoholic being keeper of the wine for the Lord’s supper. That is a responsibility not just of trust but of proof of redemption! Matthew is hearing this through the ears of a formally publicly condemned sinner, and in his interpretation Jesus might as well be pointing at him, “See? I bless and hang out with those you’ve condemned.” Luke on the other hand didn’t have that lens, he heard Jesus say that God is kind to those we might consider wicked, enemies of our souls. Both men share the same message of Jesus to love those who do evil just as God does, but in their interpretations based on their personal experience, we hear how that message affects each one! But, the message is the same, “God who loves and is kind to those who hate him, asks the same of you.”

I can’t help but think of Christians and our wrestle with the LBGTQ community. So many call them on sin saying they are sinners, stopping short of calling them wicked (or some out and out doing so), but if that’s the case, God is kind to them. He chooses to bless them and give them good things, regardless. So “Love your enemy” looks more like be kind to your enemy and bless your enemy… And enemies look like those we don’t agree with who commit actions that we think are evil or against God’s plan. Ahhh. And, they are entitled to the sun and the rain just as the Godly are, without prejudice or bias or judgement. That looks different, that feels different, that steps on the toes of the righteously political. But, that’s what loving our neighbor looks like – Doing for others not because they deserve it or because they are worthy, but because we recognize we aren’t, and, as much as it may pain us to speak it, God desires to see them blessed.

Crazy, this God Who loves us – ALL of us! And the rain falls equally across the landscape of humanity.

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The Flip Side of Poverty

We see them – vagrants living on the streets, asking for handouts, and bumming rides. We judge them as runaways, addicts, alcoholics, or panhandlers. We rarely see little more than dirty clothes, mussed hair or the cardboard signs they carry. We might be bothered if we are stopped to hand them a crumpled up dollar bill from our wallets, or the considerate and those that think ahead, may have on hand a bag of toiletries and snacks or gift cards to local fast food joints. Then, their are the spiritually considerate that might hand them nothing more than a tract, with a word of encouragement. None of those things are wrong, exactly…but is it enough?

 More and more people are finding themselves homeless and in abject poverty. Did you know that 633, 782 people in the United States experience homelessness on any given night? That is a lot of people. And whereas, some of those people have chosen it by choosing drugs over shelter, the majority of them are simply homeless due to bad circumstances and tough breaks. I was talking to a friend of mine who has been living on the streets off and on since she was fifteen, and she admitted that even in government or state funded shelters there is no sense of security or safety. In fact, within 48 hours of street life, they are solicited for sexual acts…if it takes that long. And, some choose it. Because if one sexual favor means the difference between sleeping in the alley way or paying a few dollars to sleep in a shelter, to them, it might be worth it. This then makes them prime candidates for trafficking, and their problems just got a whole lot worse.

 I can’t imagine that choice, that feeling of fear and insecurity, the inability to really relax. But, being the thinker and imaginative soul that I am, I allowed myself a look at how easily that might happen to me and to my girls:

 Right now we are doing quite well. My husband has a good job and provides for us well, but in one split second my husband could die, and without his thinking ahead to provide life insurance, within a few months we could go from middle class to homeless. That fast. When you consider that one third of his paycheck goes to mortgage and then the other two thirds go to feed and clothe us, that money will dwindle quickly. Just a couple of late payments or missed payments and rejected calls from collections agents, we could found our house foreclosed on, our savings stripped and left with no other choice but to take to the streets. For us, it would take months. For some, it would take weeks.

 My friend I mentioned found herself on the streets when she was a teenager. Her mom was an alcoholic and her step dad was a pervert. One night she had a choice, she could roll over and give him what he wanted or she could hit the streets. With tears in her eyes and just enough clothes as would fit in an oversized bag, she chose the streets. She begged her mom to take her back, but her stepdad had already concocted a story that made her look like a whore and without the mental capacities to choose correctly, her mom refused her request. Her grandmother took her in for a while, but soon she passed away, and my sweet friend, again, was found to be helpless and homeless. She has not only been mugged multiple times, leaving her with a fear of having anything worth any value or money in any quantity, but she has been a witness to some of the most violent assaults that have forever left her fearful and haunted. Tragic. Perhaps even more tragic is she is one of thousands.

 On one of our meetings, I took her to the food stamp office. You know, the place that so many look down on unable to see beyond the masses that take advantage of it? The truth is, it does provide help. But, after sitting down with an elderly man, eager for food and desperate for help, I realized it’s increasingly difficult for the uneducated, unadvancing, and illiterate. As I walked away 45 minutes later, no further in the process than when he asked, my heart hurt for him…what hope did he have? I remember one day while mentoring at a local charitable organization, a woman was sitting in a corner, deep in thought, heavily burdened. I placed my arm around her and asked what was wrong. With big, sad eyes she said, “My baby is getting made fun of.” She had all of my attention. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to choose between feeding my kids or washing their clothes… and lately all I can do is feed them.” She didn’t have to say any more. I know kids. I know their cruelties. But she was right, I didn’t understand her pain, not fully.

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There is a flip side to poverty. Humanity. There aren’t just poor. They are people with fears, insecurities, and dreams. We dismiss them because we don’t know their stories, we don’t feel their pain. We judge them based on heresay and speculation and prejudice. They are humans with souls and hearts, and each one of them from the addict begging for the next hit to the struggling single mom has a story. But, that requires getting out of our comfort zone. Knowing those stories is more work than handing out a baggie or a tract or few dollars. Because, if you get to know them, you might see that they need more. They might let you in to that well-guarded untrusting heart of theirs, and then you will be compelled to do something.

 What you can’t see this side of poverty, the side that we sit comfortably on with our cell phones and laptops with cold iced water in a glass, is that some of those “hopeless” souls know more about God and His love and provision then you and I will ever have to face. Some of them don’t have a clue about love, any love, or provision or hope or God. We can’t afford to ignore either of them – every soul deserves to be seen, even the unlovely.  I once heard, “People aren’t unlovely because they are unlovable, but because they are unloved.” I wonder, the imaginative hopeful side of me, if there were more loving, would there be less poverty. It’s just a thought, but grounded in Christ and living out His example, love is abundance.

 One of the most touching statements I have heard lately was from my mom whose heart for the hurting I inherited and who has lived out love to the less fortunate all my life. “I hurt for them. I would invite them into my house to stay in a heartbeat. In fact, maybe your dad and I will buy a trailer and set it up for just that reason.” I love her heart, and I would gladly contribute to that endeavor, and maybe we will, but we cannot house them all, feed them all, clothe them all, or help them all. None of us can save everyone, but all of us can do something – and it starts with loving them.