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Joe Visits Suburbia

Rev. Susan Brandt

Joe visits Suburbia

I hurried to get to the church in time to pick up my friend for our luncheon date. Hers was a big baby-boomer church on acreage deep in suburbia where everyone was white and prim and all things were done in order.

But today something out of the ordinary happened to delay the usually punctual conclusion of the morning service.

As I tip toed into to back of the church hall I could here Pastor Mike saying as he swayed “O give generously as we pass the plate around one more time. For God has brought our brother Joe to us in dire need. He must get home to Nova Scotia to see his dying mom.”

As parishioners dug into their pockets I scanned the audience until my gaze settled on Joe .There he was looking woebegone , head hanging as one eye gazed upon parishioners obviously moved by his plight digging deep into their pockets for cash to put in the plate. Joe who had just “shared” that he was traveling across Canada to see his dying mother when his car broke down was well know to me. It was none other but Frank who frequented our downtown drop-in centre for the homeless in order to get respite from the weather and his cocaine habit. I knew his MO was to troll churches for cash.
Frank liked to proudly show me the tattered yellow pages from the church section of the phone book that he always carried in his back pocket. “After all everyone knows Christians are a soft touch “. he used to say.

I made my way over to Pastor Mike and whispered in his ear; “Hey Mike we know Frank well downtown …your being scammed. If you give him a bundle of cash we will have to scrap him off the sidewalk when he ODs on coke”.

Pastor Mike turned his piercing gaze to me and whispered “Don’t you say a word Susan…God never sends us homeless people out here and today we have a perfect object lesson on ministering to Jesus in His distressing disguise!”

I backed away and watched them count out $436.83 and hand it over to a jubilant Frank.

Twenty-four hours later as we did our street patrol downtown there was Joe incoherent and belligerent and intoxicated. His dying mother story long ago forgotten.

The pastor was pleased. He was able to teach his congregants about the biblical mandate to aid and assist the poor. The congregants were pleased because since their flight from the inner city the only poor they see are those nasty ones portrayed on TV crime shows. But here today while they were praying for a visitation from God a real live poor person [who we all know could have been Jesus in disguise] had shown up. Being good Christians they responded knowing they could help by doing a relatively painless immediate transaction.

A win win situation everyone happy.

But at what cost? Our well intentioned uneducated efforts directed towards those we see as marginalized and different than us can actually cause great harm. Would everyone have experienced such warm fuzzies if they found out that there monetary offerings had allowed their Jesus visitor to experience possible overdose death.

Did the Good Samaritan just throw money from a safe distance at the wounded man he encountered? No the Samaritan allowed himself to be inconvenienced by offering hands on first aid, by offering transportation and lodging and then following up to make sure that the man knew he mattered and someone cared.

When all we do is offer a safe institutional response we exclude the other as being separate from us when we are commanded to embrace the other in a genuine way that is with out guile.

Saint Vincent de Paul suggested ‘we ask the poor to forgive us for our charity’. Our charitable efforts can be as oppressive as our good intentions, if in the process we render the Poor’s humanity invisible.

c.Rev. Susan Brandt
Dec 2007