The wisdom of Proverbs tends to be incredibly simple in a radically disarming manner. I realize I need to spend more time camped among these words that combine wisdom with clear calls to precise action.
Take this short gem unearthed at Proverbs 19:17:
"Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full."
For starters, this advice assumes that those of us with material resources actually encounter those who have very limited resources of this kind.
Sadly, many of us don't cross paths with the poor very often at all. This is the result of how it is that we have arranged our communities and our lives. Make no mistake about it, our communities are the result of intentional design and the forces of economics. All of us are poorer as a result.
Still, we all do encounter those who are economically impoverished.
What does it mean to be kind to someone who is poor?
What does unkindness look and feel like?
Good questions for us to ask ourselves these days, or so it seems to me.
Kindness does not ignore or avoid others.
Kindness takes the time necessary to respond with humanity, grace and humility.
Kindness views others with openness, fairness and optimism.
Kindness does not write people off. Kindness is not into judgment, rejection or dismissal.
Kindness finds the eyes of another person.
Kindness knows how to shake hands.
Kindness takes time for others.
Kindness does not wring its hands, nor does it investigate or over-evaluate a simple request like, "Hey, mister, do you have a little change so I can get a sandwich?"
Kindness will lead us to approach others even before they approach us.
There has been a big "flap" here in Dallas over the past year or so about panhandlers begging on our city streets, especially downtown and at busy intersections. We now have ordinances against such activity.
Predictably, the practice continues at about the same pace as before the new laws were enacted.
I've found a great way to deal with street beggars. Speak to them before they can speak to you! A smile and a warm handshake really makes for a different kind of conversation. Most likely, it will cost you a buck or two, but I have to tell you, the human interaction is well worth the price.
Being kind--read "human" here--to the poor is exactly like lending to the Lord.
Here is another one of those amazing and thoroughly radical statements describing the one-for-one identification of God with the street corner panhandler.
If I am kind to the poor, it is as if I am making a loan to God. Whoa. . .
In other words, God is found in the poor.
An obvious corrollary lesson here is that most people are looking for God in all the wrong places.
The clincher for me is in the promise: whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord and the loan will always be repaid in full.
Nothing is lost when kindness is extended to someone who is poor. As a matter of fact, everything is gained. Everything.