Once upon a time, there was this rich lady who cared sincerely for the poor and homeless in her community. She became a major donor to three different charitable organizations, served on the board of directors of one of them, and volunteered her time serving in a local soup kitchen. Her devotion to “helping” the poor was clearly demonstrated, her reputation solid, and she was beloved by many.
For years, she listened to and heeded the sage advice of the executive director of the Charitable Trust Foundation, who insisted that it is unwise to give any amount of money to the poor directly. He told her the money she gave to the poor would only “enable” addiction and other bad habits. He said the wise giving option would be to donate to the Charitable Trust Foundation instead, and that the funds would be distributed with equity. Even as a woman of faith, she believed this advice and heeded it as if it were Gospel truth.
For years, this charitable rich lady drove right past beggars on street corners on her way to work, to church, to play bridge or mahjong with her church friends or with the ladies from the Women’s Community Council – sometimes even as she was on her way to volunteer at the soup kitchen. She would see people milling around in the rain or cold wind, and yet she felt smug that she was doing her part to help them. It didn’t occur to her that she might do things differently or that even with million dollar budgets, the Charitable Trust Foundation had not in fact even come close to eradicating poverty. It did not occur to her that despite the exorbitant salary the executive director drew, nor the purchase of massive office space and fleet of vehicles, that she was “enabling” him instead of the poor.
But then one night, as the charitable rich lady was the last one to lock up and leave the soup kitchen after volunteering, she encountered a homeless street prophet on the parking lot who called all of this into question. And as she drove home after that conversation, she felt her rebuttals to his remarks grow stale. In fact, they seemed hollow, vain, and self serving.
She didn’t know what to do. She spent many hours in private thought on the matter, but sensed she was trapped. She had no idea how to change direction. How do you repent from this? If she pulled out all her donations and service, that would not improve a thing. If she criticized the policies and procedures, she would not have a better option to offer – and anyway, the executive director was the “expert”, not her. What could she do?
She prayed on it for weeks, but continued her normal routines – spiritually troubled, but not convinced she should stop. She read her Bible with new vigor. Sure enough, she saw that Jesus instructs us to “give to all who ask” and that Mother Mary’s prayer claimed that God would “fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty”! These observations did not trouble her nearly as much as Jesus instructing a rich man to sell all he had, give it to the poor and come follow him! He even went on to tell his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! She began to wonder if her own wealth offended God.
But then she noticed a proverb that instructs us to give hard liquor and booze to the dying and destitute to ease their pain, and the whole idea of “enabling” just crumbled under its own weight. She began to feel that she had been deceived! Deceived by her wealth, by her colleagues, and by her church.
But still… she wondered: What do I do?
Then came another night when she was the last to lock up and leave the soup kitchen, and again she bumped into the prophet. This time she humbled herself and asked his advice. She actually asked and listened to a homeless man tell her what to do. And the next day, she set out with a new kind of plan.
The charitable rich lady found a homeless woman sitting at a table eating alone in the soup kitchen. She took a plate and joined her. As they ate, she traded names with the woman and learned about her personal experiences living on the streets. She found out the homeless woman had a college degree, but had lost her job, her marriage, and her kids. In the course of losing so much, she had become addicted to street drugs.
That very night, the charitable rich lady invited the homeless woman to come stay in her fine custom home with it’s spare room. There the woman got a nice bubble bath and shared in all the self-pampering blessings the rich lady had to offer. She showed her a secluded place in the back patio where she could smoke cigarettes or have some private moments in prayer. But other than that, she opened her home and her time to this new friend.
But then when the charitable rich lady went to work the next day, she took the homeless woman with her. The rich lady was boss at the office, and so she put the homeless woman to work answering the phones, making copies and filing.
Then the next day, she took the homeless woman with her to play bridge and mahjong. This move startled all her rich friends, but they allowed it; after all, they knew their friend to be quite charitable. And despite the social awkwardness, the other ladies began to take interest in the homeless woman.
Then, the next Sunday, the rich lady took her new friend with her to church to worship Jesus together. And sure enough, the homeless woman sang her heart out! The rich lady sensed Jesus next to her, and for a moment, she even saw him with her own eyes in the homeless woman as she worshiped. And she sensed that she was blessed by God with a new blessing and a new life. She had repented.
Suddenly the rich lady realized that the thing homeless people need, by definition, is a HOME. And she began to look at them as if they were Jesus himself – the thing the prophet told her to do. And paradoxically, she began to help form Jesus in her street friends as well. And she did not use her wealth to insulate herself from poverty anymore, but to invade poverty at a very sacrificial and personal level.
It wasn’t always a smooth road. The homeless woman actually stole a diamond bracelet from the rich lady once, and it caused a lot of mistrust. But the rich lady confronted her, and when she confessed it, she forgave the sin. And after that, the rich lady and the homeless woman became even deeper friends, and the rich lady learned to loosen her grip on her diamonds and hold closer to Jesus.
And eventually, the executive director himself learned to see things differently. And he took in a homeless man at his home. And then even the pastor at the local church did it. And after a while, all the homeless of that town disappeared from the streets, and reappeared in “My Father’s House, where there are many mansions”!