Have you ever wondered how it came to be that churches are known as places where you can get a helping hand when you need one?
It seems to me that a key source of the charitable nature of churches goes all the way back to the time of Jesus. You see, in the society in which Jesus lived—in his time and place—things were very unfair and unjust. At that time, there were a few people at the top who were rich and powerful. And there were a bunch of people at the bottom, and these were people who were: thirsty, hungry, and poor. They were homeless and sick and disabled. And in that society, the people at the bottom were considered to be “untouchable.” It was thought that people who needed these kinds of help were so much at the bottom that if you even touched one of them, you risked becoming untouchable, yourself. There were even rules and codes to follow to make sure that the classes of society remained safely separated from each other.
And you know what Jesus thought about this? He absolutely believed it was wrong, and he rejected this unfair society with people on the bottom who were considered untouchable. He preached against it, and what’s more: he acted against it. He deliberately hung out with the untouchable people. And what’s more, he touched them. In fact, there are stories of Jesus’ healing touch—touching all these people at the bottom whom society told him not to touch. Jesus showed these people mercy, compassion, and love, and the stories of his healing touch have come down through the centuries to us.
Well, the Gospels that speak about Jesus, and the early church that emerged—took this part of Jesus’ message to heart. The church believed that if someone is thirsty, you should give them something to drink. If you find someone who’s hungry, you offer them food. If you see someone who is poor, give them some money so they can buy what they need. For people who are homeless, offer them shelter. With those who are sick, help them get medecine and treatment for their illness. And for people with disabilities, offer them a helping hand so they can get around in the world. Following Jesus’ example, this is what the church has worked to do.
Because when you see someone who has a need for help, and then you decide to offer them the kind of help that they need, well, that’s God, right there. When you offer a helping hand to someone who needs it, you allow a little bit of Heaven to shine, right here on earth. And that’s what we’re doing today.
This reflection was given on the occasion of my congregation’s annual participation in a collaborative urban ministry effort. We were distributing empty grocery bags which parishioners were to fill and return. The items they purchase are provided to people in need.