For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land. Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV
Those who have never been homeless cannot understand the level of frustration, shame, and desperation the homeless struggle with daily. We cannot fathom the indignation and humiliation experienced by those who are food insecure. Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with a coalition of churches to provide shelter for the homeless during the cold months of winter in New Jersey. This experience gave me the opportunity to hear their story and understand some of their pain.
These brothers and sisters are often treated as if they are invisible. Because they are often looked upon as nuisances and vagrants, many tend to spend their days hiding in secluded places where they will not be judged or looked down upon. Their unfortunate experience often leads to mental and emotional struggles that exacerbate their existential struggles.
In today’s text, the Israelites are reminded “there will never cease to be poor in the land.” Therefore, they were exhorted to cultivate a spirit of generosity toward the needy and poor. As much as it is possible, we should strive to remove the stigma placed upon the poor and needy. They should not be treated as if they are invisible. The poor and needy may have been victims of the socioeconomic system of affluence in this country, but we yet must honor their human dignity. Whereas it is commendable to offer them free food and shelter, we must give them opportunities to earn wages, so they uphold their self-esteem.
When I asked the people who participated in the shelter program in New Jersey what they needed others to know about them, every one of them said, they wanted people to see them as important human beings and not just charity cases. Most of these brothers and sisters would rather earn $20 dollars than beg for the same. Many were afraid to go to church services because they did not want to feel like they did not belong because of their appearance.
Opening our hands wide to the poor and needy is not just about giving them free food and a place to sleep. We also need to help them regain their self-worth through job training programs, free haircuts, resume preparation, and free medical checkups, as well as celebrate them when they come to our worship services without making them feel like they are needy and poor. Doing so will encourage them to come out of their existential shadow so they can be seen and heard more readily.
We live in the richest and most affluent countries in the world. Yet so many are living an existential nightmare because of their socioeconomic reality. Many of them are hiding in public parks, sleeping under bridges, living in subway stations, eating from restaurants’ dumpsters, or squatting in vacant edifices. The message we should give to these brothers and sisters is that we see them. Indeed, they should know they are not invisible to us. This is the best way to begin their reintegration into society and help them regain their self-esteem so they can become productive members of society.
Questions for Personal Reflection
How can you help those who feel invisible?
Why does God want us to open our hands to the poor and needy?
Prayer- Blessed Lord, I thank you for the resources you have blessed me with. Please remind me to continue to open my hand to the poor and needy and not treat them as if they are invisible.