Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Basic Concepts in Practical Mercy

Basic Concepts in Practical Mercy
02: Three Levels of Mercy

There are three basic levels of mercy:

1. Charity, Give water to drink, Give a hungry man a fish to eat
2. Personal Development, Give bucket to draw water, Teach the hungry man to fish
3. Empowerment, Give well to manage, Sell the hungry man the pond

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In charity, we see basic needs for food, shelter, education, a listening ear. We meet them. This is the simplest, easiest way to provide a ministry of mercy to another person. Here are some good examples:
1. A soup kitchen, providing food and water, basic nutrition, to those who are hungry.
2. A homeless shelter, providing a cool (or warm), safe, clean place to sleep for those without.
3. Free health screening, providing basic medical attention to those with no other access.
4. Free meals for a refugee family just arriving, or to a single mother immediately after birth.
5. Cleaning the kitchen and bathroom of an elderly person who has no family or friends still living.
6. Paying the electric bill of a person who has had a devastating illness and/or loss of employment.

Jesus commands us, in Matthew 25, to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and feed the hungry. James 1 tells us that pure religion includes taking care of widows and orphans.

There are some people who will need ongoing charity throughout their lives because they are permanently handicapped, but these people are rare. Normally, this kind of mercy should be directed to people in transition only! When we foster an attitude of addiction to this sort of charity, we are not being merciful at all. In fact, rich people who get a "good feeling" from providing charity to the poor might have a selfish (subconscious) desire to keep them poor so that we can continue to get the good feeling of helping them. That is not merciful. That is oppression.

Generally speaking, we give our charity with a focus upon moving toward development.

Personal Development
In personal development, we find ways for people to provide their basic needs for themselves more efficiently. We connect them with tools are resources so that they can come to a place where they can help others. This is far more demanding for both the giver and the receiver of mercy, but far more rewarding for both, too. In development, the giver and receiver share responsibility and take a step toward inter-mingling the roles of giver and receiver. Here are some good examples:
1. A jobs training center that gives computer skills to unskilled laborers.
2. An ESL class that provides a place in which to acquire English skills for better employment.
3. A budgeting class or counseling to help "stretch" the money earned by the poor.
4. Giving (loaning?) a car to someone who needs transportation to secure a good paying job.
5. Conducting a "grief group" to help recently bereaved people to connect emotionally.
6. Having a subsidized general store, or goods-for-services exchange store.

Biblically, we can think of the principle of gleaning:

Leviticus 19:9-10, When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

Basically, according the law, farmers (in this agricultural society where everybody was some sort of farmer) were allowed to pick when to harvest, but they could only harvest once. Not all the grapes (or corn, wheat, rice, etc.) is ripe at the same time. If you harvest it too early, it's no good. If you harvest it too late, it's fallen (and therefore, off limits). Therefore, the early fruit and the late fruit were for the poor. Also, the corners of the field were for the poor. A few principles here:
1. The poor have to work for their food (and if they sell what they harvest, they'll need to work extra for the money).
2. After a poor man picks early grapes off the ground and late grapes off the vine for a few seasons, he's probably skilled enough to be hired. This is job training.
3. This command is not simply "a good idea" or some way to earn "brownie" points with God, this is not for "advanced" Christians, or for those who have really big farms (the very wealthy). This is a law of God for everyone, regardless.

Mercy ministry that develops people requires much thought and energy. It requires us to look behind the presenting problem. If someone is hungry, why? How can we stop the cycle? How can we bring this person to the place where they can help others? Much of this kind of ministry involves various levels of education. Education comes in many different forms and types. However, those who engage in this type of ministry will eventually see that there are problems behind even these problems. There are more structural issues of empowerment that need to be addressed, too.

In empowerment, we seek to provide opportunties the poor to be in control of their own lives and communities in substantial and structural ways. This kind of mercy ministry is the most demanding upon both the giver and the receiver. It has the power to transform communities and cities. Here, the giver and receiver effectively trade places after a time, if it is done right. Some good examples:
1. Habitat for Humanity. Providing home ownership (rather than perpetually paying rent). This will change the "wealth status" of generations to come.
2. Promoting locally owned businesses. Keeping the resources of a poor neighborhood in the neighborhood, not flowing out provides more jobs, more affordable housing, etc.
3. Micro-business startups. Training and equipping new business owners from the poor community.
4. Long-term mentoring of children, especially young boys, to become leaders among the poor.
5. Helping communities organize to put pressure on local politicians for justice.

While charity and personal development often aim toward helping people one-at-a-time, empowerment aims at helping an entire community (albeit sometimes through individual leaders).
Empowerment commonly faces strong opposition because the results can be quite intimidating to those who are currently in power. There is always resistance by the powerful to a shift in power, but the Bible calls us to be those who would fight for the justice of all, not the status quo.

The biblical writers speak of this as "justice." Note that in Greek and Hebrew, the words for "justice" and "righteousness" are the same. These are two different words in English, but not in the Bible.

Proverbs 31:8-9, Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Isaiah 1:10-18, Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation-- I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Isaiah 58:1-10, Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

Micah 6:6-8, With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

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Blogger nickg said...

I like this series; it's getting me thinking (and feeling). Keep it up.

10:47 AM, January 24, 2007  
Anonymous Claire said...

great thoughts, thanks for sharing. I've been reading a book called the Irresistible Revolution by Shaine Claiborne who is one of the founders of the Simple Way ( in Philadelphia. It's a great book, challenging as well.

11:12 PM, January 28, 2007  

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