It’s a bit of a hot topic as of late: “poorism.” Poverty tourism, as a commodity. It’s booming. Ironic, huh? Wealthy people paying money to go and look at poor people.
Obviously, there is a little more to it than that. But at its core, that’s all that is happening, isn’t it?
On second thought, what if that’s not all that’s happening? What if, to a certain degree, we are reverting to something that goes much deeper, something that bubbles up from the deepest corners of our spirits and souls? What if we are simply remembering something?
Read the gospels much? I try to.
When I began thinking about the poorism, the first thing that came to mind was …Jesus. Let me tell you why.
Repeatedly throughout the gospels, when Jesus first calls his disciples, when he is approached by the rich young man, whenever he is asked about the kingdom of heaven, He says, “Come follow me.”
“Who first started following,” I asked myself.
To the best of my knowledge, it began with the disciples. Perfectly healthy, employed and financially comfortable men. Perhaps suburbanites … if they were married.
Where was Jesus going that he wanted people to follow?
According to Matthew 4:25b he went to “…Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, to Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (ESV).
In other words, all over; far beyond the reaches of his backyard, hometown and comfort zone, if I had to guess.
All the while, being “followed” (v. 25a).
Two questions down, one to go.
Why? Why did they follow?
I suppose the fact that he was literally performing miracles in front of them might have been compelling. But, from a cultural perspective, he was also claiming to be the Son of God; the Messiah. And, as history has shown us, that didn’t go over too well.
It was offensive to many, blasphemous to others, and absolutely absurd to the Pharisees. All around, a fairly radical claim.
And like today, you are guilty by association, so to follow him was to believe him. A dangerous path to tread if you cared about your reputation.
But still they came. They followed. They were captivated.
I can’t help but think that as appealing as Jesus must have been, there had to be some draw to where he was going and what he was doing. His followers ranged in social status, and they willingly followed him to places they had never been.
Is it crazy to think there would be some degree of curiosity to see the other side of the tracks?
Without demeaning the poor, I wonder if the wealthy were simply thirsty for the reality that they had so long been deprived of. Whether it was for their protection or not, many, like today, were segregated from the poor, the afflicted, the sick and the hurting.
Could it be that the hearts of the wealthy were not wholly consumed by their monetary funds, but were simply uneducated on the depravity of the masses that surrounded them?
What if they followed Jesus because no one else was brave enough to take them there? What if they followed Jesus because they wanted to help make a difference, to go back to their homes and spread news of need? What if Jesus inspired them to see souls instead of sickness? Is that poorism?
Granted, nowadays people are literally profiting off of the poor by exploiting their desperate situation to a mass consuming public. But then again, why now? Why are the wealthy taking trips now when, like most of America, their wealth is actually diminishing?
It’s not logical. It’s not rational. It’s not fiscally sound.
I wonder if the hearts of so many, given the country’s economic circumstances, aren’t breaking for those who are losing so much more than their 401K plans. I wonder if the eyes of many Americans aren’t being opened for the first time to the vapor that their wealth has now become and to the weight that their spiritual lives should have been long before they had to hit their knees.
I wonder if perhaps the Lord is not reminding us what the first followers truly looked like. Drawn out, taught and challenged to do something about that which is so conveniently shoved under the rug.
In the same way that the Holy Spirit will simply not leave you alone when you come to know Him, could it be that coming to know the poor and destitute will inspire action?
Because following alone cannot be the end result. Christ didn’t simply walk around from town to town and look at those in need. He met their needs.
He touched them, healed them, spoke to them, loved them and set them free.
He calls us to do the same. And if you feel as inadequate as I do sometimes, no worries. He has equipped us with all we need. All we have to bring to the table is a willing heart and obedient spirit.
So, if you’ve been sheltered in the way that I have, perhaps a trip would be good for us. Not to gawk and stare, but instead to open the eyes of our hearts so see the souls of those who crave the same things we do: love, acceptance and help.
In the same way that a shepherd must break the leg of a wandering sheep, maybe the Lord needs to break our perception of reality in order to use us in bigger ways.
It is an undeniable thing, I think, within every human life to want to have an impact, to want to leave a legacy. But I also think, we get in our own way; we don’t venture out because we don’t want to get lost.
But if we don’t dare get lost, we will never know the saving grace of a God who has promised to deliver and lead us out of the wilderness.