sitting at table together

As he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

When Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mk 2.15-17)

This morning I saw something in this story that may help answer a question I've been struggling with. I've written before about my struggles figuring out how to serve people with many needs. But recently I've recognized that some people who have "chronic" needs seem to cling to their needs, making it very difficult to really help. It even seems that the usual aid and expressions of sympathy encourage this clinging to hardship and need. So that the person is not helped, but actually seems to become more needy.

I think it has something to do with hard experiences and the accompanying feelings of deprivation and loss, that leave the person with a sense of being cheated or short-changed in life. A sense that they are owed. They feel that they didn't get what they were supposed to get, what everyone else got, that they have been wronged by life (or God?). Seeing themselves as victims, they expect much from others, but little from themselves. This creates a feeling of being freed from responsibility for their actions or for what happens to them. Of course this doesn't lead to anything good, but it does give a false sense of freedom and dignity, being the "wounded one."

What to do about this? I've figured out that showing sympathy ("poor you") certainly doesn't help. And just doing things for them doesn't help. I've pulled back from that. But what could actually help them, what could help them break out of their victim mentality?

Most people don't want to be around the chronically needy, who are constantly complaining and asking for things. And I feel like I don't want to, either. Especially when I've decided it's not good to just keep giving them things, it becomes very difficult to keep saying no and still be around them. But Jesus' example in the story seems to say that we should stay among the needy, especially when it's difficult. Perhaps that continued presence, treating them as equals (sitting at table together) instead of treating them like victims, may help them see themselves in a different way. And sharing our own lives and struggles may encourage them to start responding to the challenges in their lives. The challenges God has put before them, for their good.