“You got to be contrary, but there’s a world of pleasure in contrariness.”
– Wendell Berry
“You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” – John 12:8
Is it possible that Jesus was talking about the faithfulness of the poor? Did He mean that “they’d always be there for you?” like your Mom, Dad, good friend, sister or brother are there for you?
And what about the rich? Are they “here for us”? That hasn’t been my experience.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matt. 19:23
I’ve been out of work for about 10 months, and I never expected to be in this situation, nor could I have imagined it. I’ve worked hard my entire life, from picking corn and peaches on a farm at 14, to stocking shelves in high school, selling watches and diamond rings when I was single and on my own, to pressing through many years of midnight shifts in downtown Detroit so I could provide for my wife and kids. I’ve never asked for – or expected – help from the government or anybody else.
On October 31, 2008 I was laid off from a job I’d had for 14 years, and where I was feeling pretty secure. At least until new owners took over a few years back and mismanaged the company to death. Then the economy tanked, along with the automotive industry and its thousands of small suppliers you never hear or read about.
In the past, getting a new job was never more than a day away for me. But this time is different. Really different. There are no jobs in the Detroit area for me.
I’m a 56-year-old copy editor who’s highly regarded by co-workers and bosses – but accolades can’t get me a job these days. I appreciate them, but money is the bottom line, and if anybody’s hiring, they’re looking at entry-level college kids who make $28,000/year.
And you know who’s reached out to us in our time of need? Has it been the company owners we know, or nearby churches that are sitting on millions of dollars for future building projects? Or my former boss – who stiffed us out of COBRA benefits – who lives in Grosse Pointe Shores and has a condo in Harbor Springs?
Not even a phone call.
“The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends.” – Pro. 14:20
Life is a challenge for the poor. And I’m just discovering this, because I am now one of the “newly poor.” I am seeing things and experiencing life with new eyes. I have a renewed empathy for the poor, the hurting, the dispossessed. The homeless are no longer those sad souls who shuffle along with their life’s belongings in a bag or a cart. They’re somebody. I see them and say “that could be me.” Maybe it is me.
I have to say here, though, that I’ve always had some empathy for the poor, and that’s because of my Dad. I’ll never forget the day we were driving down Howard St., heading toward the Ambassador Bridge on the way to our cottage. Our cottage? Yep. We had a cottage in Canada. Where do you think I picked corn and peaches – in Detroit?
All I remember was that I was riding in the back of my Mom’s ’56 Ford station wagon with my brothers and sisters, and we suddenly veered to the side of the street. What’s going on? Lock the doors everybody, we’re in a bad neighborhood. My Dad actually got out of the car! I don’t remember if my Mom questioned my Dad or not, but I can imagine she was scared and didn’t know what he was doing. But she knew him. She knew the guy she’d married, and she loved him for the quirky, loving man he was.
You gotta be kidding me, Dad. Don’t go near that filthy man carrying that bag over his shoulder. What are you doing?
But he calmly walked up to this man – a poor man – put his hand on the man’s shoulder, pulled some cash out of his pocket, and gently handed it to the guy. I think the poor guy was dumbfounded, because I don’t remember seeing his mouth move or him shaking my Dad’s hand, or anything. I just remember that my Dad walked back to the car (of course, we had to quickly unlock his door), sat down, slid the gear lever down to D and drove off. Never a word about it.
That still impresses me to this day – nearly 50 years later. WOW! What an example of God’s love to the poor. Thanks Dad, and thanks Mom, for being the parents who always modeled that love to us. You taught us to look past our fears, our prejudice, our insecurities and our failures, to see others the way God sees them. Thanks for the lesson.
In my current distress, I’ve become keenly aware of those who have drawn near to us. Actually drawn close, like when my Dad walked up to that guy on Howard. Close enough to touch us, to smell us, to look into our eyes. To hear us. And they have.
These are the ones who struggle every day to feed their own kids, pay their bills, put overpriced gas in their cars and hopefully hold on to their own modest jobs.
These are the ones we will always have with us. And thank God we do. Because they empathize when we’re down. These are the ones Jesus spoke of when He said: “You’ll always have the poor among you.”
Among us. With us. Close. Touching. Seeing. Hearing. Responding. Giving. Loving.
Not next to us, or close to us, or near us. Among us. One of us.
I thank God for our friends and family who have been a blessing to us, without being asked but feeling for us and responding kindly. I thank God that I’ve had tons of time with my grandkids that I never had while working. I thank God that I’m not alone in this – my wife and I stand together, as we have for 34 years, through the better and the worse. Mostly the better. Thanks, Sharon.
And I thank God for my kids, who are all grown up with families, responsibilities and challenges of their own. They’ve grown up to be pretty empathetic individuals, and what else can you ask for? The love of God runs through all of them and flows out to people all around them. They’re special people, and I am deeply proud of them. However, I’m glad they don’t have to change my diapers yet – and I hope they never will – but I think they would if they had to, and that means a lot to me. Thanks, Jesse, Ben & Sarah.
“Praise the Lord.
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.
He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.” – Psalm 113