Patronizing the Poor

patronize |ˈpātrəˌnīz, ˈpa-|
verb [ with obj. ]
(often as adj. patronizing) treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority: “She’s a good-hearted girl,” he said in a patronizing voice | she was determined not to be put down or patronized.

This past week, I had a serious gut-check. I talk a lot about living out the mission of Jesus: serving the least, seeking the lost, and making disciples. The people on the social fringe and who seem to be spiritually far from God are exactly who Jesus invited to be His disciples and who He equipped to be the leaders in His movement. BIG QUESTION: Do I really believe this? If I am honest, where I have the greatest crisis of belief is with those who seem to have the least to offer: the least of these, people caught in a constant cycle of poverty, those at the bottom of the social ladder.

This has led me to some tough questions:
Do I pursue and invest in the lost and the least of these with the expectation that they will become the leaders in Jesus’ movement in this city? If not, then why? Probably to some degree we do good because doing good makes us feel better about ourselves. Serving others can function as a personal self-esteem booster. As we serve those who are less fortunate, we’re reminded of how fortunate we are and the significance of our life, but we often miss the God-given significance of the people we’re serving. We miss what God wants to do in and through them. If I have no real expectation that God wants to do something of eternal significance through the least of these, then I am doing nothing more than patronizing the poor.

Does the way I disciple and develop leaders match God’s approach in scripture?
Looking at the Old Testament… Would I choose Moses, someone who considered himself not eloquent… slow of speech and of tongue? Would I choose David or choose someone else based on their stature and outward appearance rather than his heart?

Looking at the Gospels… Would I have chosen guys like Jesus did to be His inner circle: blue collar fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, a sell-out like Matthew, and a violent revolutionary like Simon?

Looking at the New Testament Church… Would I have planted a church in Corinth believing that God chooses to use foolish, the weak, and those without influence to engage a pagan city with the message of Jesus?

Why do I often expect less? This is where a lot of soul-searching has happened. I think to some degree it’s because we can best imagine God using people like us. In my case that means educated middle-class guys. Those are the people it’s easiest for me to see becoming the leaders in our church and community. Yes, they have issues, but they’re similar issues to what I’ve struggled with and experienced God working through. Somehow I consider God’s grace less to be less proficient in working through people struggling with a “bigger” different set of  issues. I can also unknowingly behave like the key to God using people is for them to move towards the middle-class life that I’ve embraced.

This past week, I was hanging out with a friend of mine who by most perspectives would qualify as impoverished and on the social fringe. He’s experienced a great deal of brokenness in his life: born with fetal alcohol syndrome, divorced in his thirties, functionally illiterate, and struggling with his finances. During our conversation, the Holy Spirit pierced me with these questions:
Do you believe I can transform his life?
Do you believe I want to give him a life of eternal significance?
Do you believe I can use him to be an influencer for Jesus in this community?
If not, what are you doing here? If so, act like it.

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