I want to interject some thoughts that I was struck with tonight at church. It surprised me because while I often “receive a Word” at church, it’s often after some sifting through what the pastor said, or it’s being convicted by the Holy Spirit while praying. Tonight, I felt the necessity of rebuke by both a congregation member and the pastor.
We were talking about Acts, and my housemate Jonathan made a strong emphasis on the fact that Paul was dependent on the hospitality of others. This led to some discussion about the importance of hospitality.
My neighbor, at that point, spoke up and said (paraphrased here), “I know we talked about this a little bit on Sunday, but I just wanted to say that I’ve thought more about it, and I’m sure that it is a sin to not visit the sick. There’s no two ways around it, it’s what the Word says, and I believe it.”
In all my energy to care about the poor, I think up until this year I’d forgotten about the rest of that saying…Jesus says to take care of the sick, to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. While being at Rutba, I’ve seen the welcome the stranger acted out more concretely than anywhere else, and I feel like I’ve tried to clothe the naked. Here, I’ve also seen the command to visit the imprisoned taken seriously. But tonight, after my neighbor said something, the pastor got up and went on and on about the importance of visiting the sick and showing hospitality. I was immediately struck with how I’ve not done any visiting of the sick recently.
Obviously, the knee jerk reaction to these commands from Jesus is that we don’t know anyone who is sick, or in prison, etc. But I’ve been doing this “justice” thing for long enough to know the response to that. We’re supposed to know the sick, the poor, etc. We’re supposed to be friends and love people who end up in prison. How can we take care of Jesus if we’ve never met him? I don’t know about everyone at St. Johns, where I go to church, but I know at least the pastor does an amazing job at visiting church members who are in the hospital or sick.
These are the Works of Mercy. I’ve been reading a good bit of Dorothy Day recently, and she is always talking about the central importance of the Works of Mercy. I see how I let my presence at the Rutba House replace some of the call to the works of mercy. I know a couple homeless men, but I haven’t gone out and met them. I welcome the stranger, but I rarely meet the stranger outside of our house.
Maybe this relates to the second bit, about power.
Power, in Christian circles, needs a new definition. The Works of Mercy are powerful. The torture and death on a cross, is powerful. The office of the President of the United States is not powerful. In Christ, power is in weakness. This is of course known, but we still refer to “positions of power” and “powerful governments.” But we are strong when we are weak. For the Christian, there is no power apart from the cross, which is the ultimate sign of weakness (by normal terms).
What I am getting at is the way we think about power. Inefficiency is power. God has always worked through the weakest ways, but those have proven to be the only ways with God. God has the power to heal our brokenness, but we soon learn that our brokenness comes as we are broken, made weaker. We receive our healing in the Works of Mercy, in the powerful clothing of the naked, the visiting of the sick.
I think of this specifically in relationship to the attitude towards government, but really any high sort of position as well. Conservative and Liberal Christians alike look at the government has having a certain kind of power. Each seeks to see that power used for certain ends. That seems to be in conflict with the definition of power that Christ gives us.
Thoughts? Does the government actually have power? If not, how does that affect our purpose? People often say that governments can do things on a scale people cannot (good things (like health care) and bad things (like war). How does our understanding of power affect our participation in these systems?