I love it when one of those throwaway quotes that occur in a conversations suddenly develop talons which pierce you with the immensity of their apparent simplicity and seek to drown you in the depths of what would be, from many, a shallowness.
This was my experience this morning as I chatted to Justin's new advisor on evangelism and witness (a through nice bloke called Chris) and as he chatted about his role and reasons for being, family and stuff, I, once more, got the feeling that I'm looking forward to becoming a Justinian :-)
But that aside, let's get back to that thought: 'The poor have names.'
I struggle that the Church often appears to see 'the poor' in much that same way as it sees mission - namely as something we need to address in other places and different cultures. When they are considered, they are often considered as a class of folk rather than as individuals and whilst there are times when this is necessary, for we can't call for justice for John, Bob, Mary, Betty and All the poor by name - because we would surely miss some and there's not enough time left to right wrongs by the time we a done. BUT when we are on the streets in the communities we are called to serve, there is no excuse for us not to know their names. When we pass through the streets of our town and see the Big Issue seller or the chap who sits in the same place begging, we have no excuse not to know their names and to engage with them in an effort to serve and support them as Christ would have us do.
One of the (many) things I am known for 'going on about' (I prefer 'having a passion for') is that when we see someone begging we give them something perhaps more costly than money in our society - time! We stop and engage with the person and find out who they are and why they are there and what they really need. We give them the dignity of personhood and being worthy of our precious time - for money is the cheap and easy option.
Money says, 'I will pay you to away! I'm not really interested in who you are and why you're here - just stop bothering me!' Money turns the poor before us into potential kidnappers as we pay the ransom to have us set free from their company; but what, we mus ask ourselves, would Jesus do?
The poor have names and needs and hopes and hurts and pain and a need of the overwhelming love of God, and this is found in the hearts of those who call themselves Christian. Unless the Church can bring itself to learn the names of 'the poor' we condemn them to the marginalisation of poverty and share with them a poverty of Spirit that condemns us both (and denies the image of Jesus, the Christ, in us).