What Will We Do? A Faithful Response To Poverty In Advent

Did you ever have one of those bracelets that said “What Would Jesus Do?” Maybe a bumper sticker? Did you get the T-shirt ― WWJD? This was all the rage in the 1990s.

In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?, a novel written by Charles Sheldon in 1896, grew out of sermons he preached about imitating Christ. In His Steps was not about personal redemption but about making the moral choice when encountering the poor and marginalized. Sheldon believed all people ― including blacks, women, Jews and Catholics ― were equal and should be treated as such.

In the novel, a pastor named Rev. Henry Maxwell encounters a homeless man who challenges his faith. The homeless man expresses his difficulty understanding why so many Christians ignore the poor:

“I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night,

’All for Jesus, all for Jesus, All my being’s ransomed powers, All my thoughts, and all my doings, All my days, and all my hours.’ and I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it. It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand.”

We understand, don’t we? There is often a deep conflict between what the people of God say we believe and how we live our lives. We get it. And we wonder what to do about it.

Matthew 25:31–46 is one of those texts that speaks for itself. Here is The Message version of the core verses:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ’Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

This text does not ask us to believe in any particular way. It doesn’t demand orthodoxy. It calls us into action. Because Jesus would do it. BUT, more radical than that: When we act on behalf of the least of those among us, we act for Jesus himself.

That’s Jesus in the soup kitchen. That’s Jesus on the cardboard on the street; Jesus sleeping in the train station. That is Jesus on the corner, lost and confused. Jesus drinking unclean water from a stream in Puerto Rico. Jesus languishing behind bars, in isolation, desperate for safety and light.

That’s Jesus living on a reservation in Oklahoma, on a tiny remnant of land belonging to her people, an embarrassing concession for the way her land was stolen from her. That’s Jesus struggling to keep her culture alive in the midst of American cultural holidays that ignore her truth.

That’s Jesus whose baby has been snatched out of her arms, while she is being deported. Jesus is crossing the desert, thirsty for water and for freedom. That’s Jesus deciding whether to pay rent or buy medication. That’s Jesus living in a tenement, working three jobs to feed his children.

In response to those on the margins, we might ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” But an even better question is, “What Will We Do?”

I think we must do two really important things right now.

1) Join the Advent Conspiracy, and make your holiday money count.

  • $450 billion is spent in this country during the month of December, much of it on holiday shopping. 2.2 million people die every year due to lack of access to clean drinking water. According to number crunchers at the World Bank and United Nations Development Program, it’s estimated that it would cost somewhere around $20 billion to solve the global water crisis. That’s less than 5% of what’s spent in this country during one holiday shopping period in December.

  • SO, give one or two less presents, and give what you can to the charity of your choice, a place that provides clean water to the world, to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in particular. (WaveforWater.org is a great place to start!) Give to an organization that feeds the poor, provides housing or bail money; a place that works for prison reform, or helps returning citizens or veterans find jobs.

2) Pressure our elected officials to say “NO!” to the tax plan moving through Congress, TODAY!

  • Sister Simone Campbell and Network say it plainly, “This tax plan fails a basic moral test. This bill takes from people in poverty to give to the wealthiest in our nation, and it goes against everything we as people of faith believe.”

  • Call your Senators now: 1-888-885-1748. Call twice to reach both Senators. Tell them: “Hi, my name is [NAME] and I am a constituent from [CITY/TOWN]. As a person of faith, I’m calling you to OPPOSE the Senate tax bill because it is inconsistent with my faith teaching. This plan gives the wealthy and large corporations trillions of dollars in tax cuts and will have devastating effects on programs that I care about, like the Child Tax Credit, Medicare, and more. I urge you to oppose such a reckless tax plan.”

  • Share this with your friends, especially those in Tennessee, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Maine to call their Senators and say “Vote NO!”

Do these things because Jesus is right there in the poor, needing our care. And because our actions help complete God’s dream of a healed and whole world. Stay in touch with actions toward God’s Dream at middlechurch.org.