don't excuse me

This story was read at breakfast this morning:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable:

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.'

"Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." (Lk 15.1-7)

It made me think again of the conference Saturday, where there was a mix of formerly (and some currently) homeless and addicted folks along with a number of well-meaning middle class people who are trying to help. I noticed an interesting difference between them. The middle class "helpers" spoke of homelessness and addiction in terms of victimization, pointing to the negative social factors, the influence of childhood abuse and other family problems, the need for more government spending for treatment and housing. As if they were trying to make excuses for these people, or direct the blame elsewhere. But the former addicts and prostitutes who told their stories did not focus on these issues. They acknowledged family problems (though some did not have significant childhood traumas) but seemed to place most of the blame for their problems on themselves. They admitted their wrong choices, and ways they had injured others. And they described how things had changed for them when they started responding differently to the difficulties in their lives. Most even said they did not regret the hardships in their lives, since they helped bring them to an encounter with God.

This acceptance of guilt (and demonstration of their new freedom from it) comes across as very honest and true, and very inspiring. In comparison, the talk about victimization sounds hollow.

I'm sure the "helpers" felt they were being generous, trying to excuse others for their addictions and failures. But excuses don't help them. And demanding more government money doesn't address the deeper need, the spiritual healing and dependence on God that it required to restore someone's life from the inside. To find the one who is lost.

I suppose we offer what we have to give. And most of the time the best we have to offer is excuses and rationalizations and diversion of blame. That's what we give ourselves when we fail or feel at fault. I've come to realize that the poor are not worse than those with more money (and not better either). They're just as bad. It just that the faults of the poor are more apparent, their addictions more obvious, their wrongdoing more despised by society. The "more fortunate" are also chained by their faults and fears, but they have the means to pursue their obsessions in an acceptable way, the education to excuse their own behavior, and the money to cover a multitude of sins. Convinced they need no repentance, they think they can help the poor the same way. By simply telling the lost sheep he's not so lost.

The suffering poor don't need government money and magnanimous excuses. They need to see the truth about themselves and God. As we all do.