Recently, several hundred clergy gathered at Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building on Jones Street in Raleigh to protest North Carolina government policies that hurt the poor. I was unable to be present but I want to stand with them in protest. Christian faith is bound, in the example of Jesus Christ, to work for the betterment of the poor and the stranger.
When the world was smaller and local, people took care of the ones who needed help in their midst. Today in Macon County it is impossible for the churches alone to competently care for those folks among us who cannot afford food for their families or heat for their homes. We work hard to support CareNet in the local Methodist churches I serve, but the needs are overwhelming. Many of the people I meet are physically and emotionally unable to provide for themselves. I am alarmed at the cuts to mental health and education that will inevitably lead to greater stress on our law enforcement.
The gospels relate the story of Jesus, worn out from teaching and healing, setting out with his disciples across the Sea of Galilee to come ashore in a remote area, populated, as far as they can see, only by a herd of swine on a distant hill, and a cemetery. As they step out of the boat a man comes out from the tombstones. He is in torment – naked and dirty, muttering to himself and shouting at them. Law enforcement has been unable to contain him. Jesus’ immediate and compassionate response is to command the unclean spirits to come out of him. The man tells Jesus his name is “Legion.” It seems to him a legion of forces are fighting within him. The commentator Willam Barclay says that perhaps he had witnessed atrocities by a Roman legion of soldiers that had scarred his mind and driven him mad.
The gospels say the unclean spirits in the man are sent by Jesus into the herd of swine on the far hill and this herd runs off the cliff and is destroyed. The people in the area are alerted to this loss in their economy and they come to check out what has happened. They find their once-demented neighbor clothed and sitting quietly and at peace, listening to Jesus. They cannot rejoice in his healing. They can only register their fear in finding One who would spend such wealth in the healing of one man. They beg Jesus to leave and he does. But before he goes he sends the man back into their midst as a witness to the power and love of God to heal and save.
God has a different view of wealth than most of us. God gives us the ability to work and we use God’s creation – either the earth or the talents and abilities God has given the individual – to gain some measure of wealth. But the story of the Bible is that what we have is meant to be put into service of God in caring for our families and helping our neighbor. Those who have more than enough to care for their families are called upon in the scripture to allow the poor to “glean” from their fields.
When our governments become misguided in their responsibility to care for the people then we must speak out. The North Carolina legislature is making grave errors in policies that hurt the least among us. If they will but look, the face of that least one is the Christ.
Reverend Janet J. Greene
Pastor, South Macon United Methodist Charge