Dives et Pauper

Photo: Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service....only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food....NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.  As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation........"We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek"....The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.....The homeless man sitting in the back stood up.....and started walking down the aisle.....the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him....he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment....then he recited“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning...many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame.... he then said....Today I see a gathering of people......not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples...when will YOU decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until next week.......Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It's something you live by and share with others.

Update: This story has turned out to be an urban legend, and therefore is not true. It is doing the rounds on the blogs and Facebook, and my Bishop reproduced it in good faith. This photo is one of a homeless man in London. All the same, I leave my article of yesterday in place for its value as a “modern parable”.

* * *

The story is always the same. We all do it as we see down-and-outs in front of a railway station begging. Most are alcoholics and drug addicts, in most cases almost at the end of their lives. I have lived in London’s East End and seen methos (methylated spirit drinkers) found dead in winter and ignominiously taken away by the police in plastic bags. Our consciences work overtime, knowing that any money we give them will either not be enough or would be used to finance the “habit” rather than buy food and other essentials. What can we do?

Looking at something my Bishop put on Facebook, there is an incredible story of a new pastor of an Evangelical church:

Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured [opposite]) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service….only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food….NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation……..”We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek”….The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation…..The homeless man sitting in the back stood up…..and started walking down the aisle…..the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him….he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment….then he recited

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning…many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame…. he then said….Today I see a gathering of people……not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples…when will YOU decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until next week…….Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It’s something you live by and share with others.

In my own experience, most of us who have spent any time in cities will have become cynical by the sheer number of con-men, thieves and mafia-type organisations preying on the credulity and sense of pity of ordinary people. When I was in Rome, there were criminal organisations running prostitutes and professional beggars, using children they had bought from corrupt orphanage agencies in countries like Albania. I have often offered to buy food for someone appearing to be hungry – but they clearly wanted money for something else…

Obviously, the best thing is for a parish to run a soup kitchen, somewhere where truly homeless people can find a meal, a bed for the night and some second-hand clothes – but not money. It is best to have people give to such an organisation rather than directly to the people concerned. The example shows the indifference of many of us, compounded by our cynicism in the face of thieves and crooks. Perhaps it is a case of preferring to be deceived twenty times than unjust just once! There are also possibilities for us to do voluntary work for the homeless and donate money to organisations and agencies established to help them – and they are very good at distinguishing the those who have genuinely fallen upon hard times from those who are looking for “easy money”.

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6 Responses to Dives et Pauper

  1. Rdr. James Morgan says:

    Snopes says this story is ‘undetermined’, however there are precedents. The photo is actually of a homeless man in London.
    http://www.snopes.com/glurge/homelesspastor.asp

    Rdr. James
    PS My reply does not in any way argue that we should not do what we can to help the helpless!

    • I had my suspicion going by the look of this man who had obviously been living rough for a long time – or he has been at sea, which produces about the same effect. I doubt someone could reproduce this effect in only a few days. It is interesting that this photo seems to portray a man who is very dirty and unkempt, but fundamentally in good health (muscular) and without that look typical of alcoholics or drug addicts.

      All the same, it seems to be a good modern-day parable. I had the intuition of calling this posting by the title of a famous medieval piece of writing which teaches the moral of not closing one’s heart to the poor. The original inspiration of Dives et Pauper is, of course, the parable of Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16,19-31. It is a long prose treatise in Middle English, a dialogue between Dives, a rich layman, and Pauper, a learned mendicant preacher, about the meanings of the ten commandments and various other issues of the day.

      We can’t go handing out money to vagrants in our cities. We could never give them enough! Our churches need to take on this kind of humanitarian work in an organised way, or participate in the work of existing charities. That is something effective and positive to do, and relatively immune to the con-men, thieves and criminals. We can’t do this kind of work as individuals.

      • ed pacht says:

        … and yet we can’t NOT do this kind of work as individuals either. The rich man in the parable is judged on what he has not done — as are those in Matthew 25 who failed to recognize Christ in the needy they met. No, I don’t hold the solution to anyone’s real needs in my hands. Solutions, if they indeed exist, do need to come from somewhere else, but I can find some way to show respect, to show love and mercy, to recognize Christ in the least of these brethren, and, yes, in some small way to be Jesus to them. I do believe we will be judged at last fir the scorn that we (yes, I do include myself here) routinely show to those who aren’t as ‘pretty’ as we think they should be. The ‘how to’ details are hard to come by, but the principle is at the core of Christianity.

      • Indeed, the message of St Francis – be as poor as them and then your words will be convincing. St Peter who said “Gold and silver have I none, what I have I give unto thee. Rise up and walk!”. The old Work Ethic isn’t dead among many well-to-do Christians for whom someone’s value is equal to the money he has!

      • ed pacht says:

        As I read Matthew 25 (and as I think Francis read the same passage) we are to be judged not so much on the results of what we have done (results are often well beyond our ability), nor even so much on the specific things we have done, but rather on the reasons we have done as we have done — on what is in our hearts as we do our best to do right: “As ye have done (pr not done) to the least of my brethren, ye have done (or not done) to me.” We can do good, either individually or on a corporate level (be that through church or state), and yet do it with an attitude of superiority and self-righteousness, and thus serve ourselves rather than Christ — or we can do our best (even mistakenly) to serve Him in those who need. To the latter He says, “Well done,” to the former He says, “I never knew you.”

  2. Neil Hailstone says:

    Excellent article.I agree that donating money to individuals is mostly counter productive. Parishes should be involved in this essential Christian work. The church where I attend Mass welcomes everyone regardless of social status.We have a food bank as do other churches in the area.
    There is much we can all do by loving people and offering practical advice and assistance.

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