it's not Jesus we're dealing with

I've been inundated with the "see God in the poor" message lately. Someone gave me an article by Jean Vanier, in which he compared care for a handicapped person with Mary's motherly care for Jesus. And in church Sunday there was a poster saying, "Those who can't see God in the poor are atheists indeed." (It was attributed to Dorothy Day, though I think it's a bit of a misquote.) Then I read a sermon yesterday where the writer said Jesus seems to have "gone missing" from the world, but if we wanted to find him we should look among the poor. He even quoted Bono (lead singer for U2 and a prominent activist), who apparently preached last year to the president and other world leaders: "God is in the slums... God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives...."

It's not a bad message, I guess. It's actually pretty good, if you're talking to comfortable people and trying to get them involved with charity work. It's not exactly what Jesus taught, but there's some truth in it; God certainly can be seen among the poor and working with the needy is a good thing to do if we're looking for God. I've tried to follow that path myself.

But if you follow it far, you run into some confusing problems. Because, while God can certainly be seen among the poor, there are also many among the poor that don't reflect God much at all. In the Vanier article, he also mentioned that often the handicapped aren't easy to love because they don't always act like the child Jesus, even when we'd like to see them that way. Vanier didn't offer much help, though, dealing with that discrepancy. He just said it's "a mystery."

This is the problem I find myself facing right now. What happens when it becomes clear that it's not Jesus we're dealing with, but a broken person (like any of us) who needs to face some faults and make some changes and start becoming a little more like Jesus? When it gets to this point, the "see God in the poor" mantra isn't much help. Saying "it's a mystery" isn't much help. What is helpful, I think, is to pay attention to how Jesus worked with sinners, challenging them, not cooperating with their faults, setting a different example, showing them the reality of their condition—and patiently suffering when they don't like what they see and retaliate. Instead of trying to see Jesus in them, try to be Jesus to them, to be used by Jesus to touch their lives. This is what Jesus did teach.

I'm sure the "see God in the poor" message will continue to be popular. I suppose we like the image of us taking care of God. And a person can raise a lot of money and get quite famous preaching that message.

Actually try to be like Jesus, however, and you will most likely get what Jesus got. But isn't it worth it? To not be continually looking for him, but feel him moving in us, looking for others through us...