Marge came into my office to visit today. I always enjoy talking to Marge (or to most of you for that matter). That’s why the office door is always open. Anyway, before Marge and I talked about what she came into the office to talk about, we gave each other unexpected gifts: I showed her how to turn off her Kindle Fire (you have to hold the button down, else it just goes to sleep), and Marge taught me how check out electronic books from the library (the book simply ‘disappears’ on the due date - no more late fees!). More on this story in a moment. Just now, it’s enough to have shared it.
Much is made about the many needs that need meeting in the world today. Poverty, illiteracy, the heater that went out on my parents, the unexpected hospital bill, the car that won’t start, and on and on. We are never truly without because - at least it seems this way - we always at least have our needs.
On top of that, into a world convinced of its neediness, the church is often pressured to justify its existence by meeting the unmeetable need. I remember a youth of our parish asking me, as we handed out food to the homeless in downtown Corpus Christi: “What is the point?” The meals get dropped into the unmeetable need like a dewdrop in the fire. Her feeling of despair in that moment was palpable.
I want to suggest that, for Christians, the needs of others are important, but they aren’t of first importance. Hang with me a second. On a purely practice measure, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the guilt and despair of the needs-first approach (identify the surrounding needs and meeting them already!) can’t be the best approach because it so quickly eats up its proponents with feelings of helplessness and loss of self-worth. By a deeper measure, any approach that ushers its proponents to the edge of despair is surely not in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus, which is a gospel of hope.
But if I don’t start with the needs around me, where do I start?
Do you remember what it was that Jesus told the disciples when they realized that the crowd was hungry and that it was well past supper time? (Sure you do.) “You give them something to eat.”
“You give something to eat.” The immediate concern isn’t the need, which Jesus counts as obvious - the first concern is the disciples. Jesus is saying, in effect, “Give what you have.” And indeed, we can only give what we have.
Give what you have, and trust Jesus to see how far it will go.
So at least one approach to need-meeting is not to start with the need, but to take inventory of what you have to give. Two questions that I particularly like for this sort of inventory are: “What do I like to do? How can I share it with others?”
What do I like to do? How can I share it with others?
These questions do not lead to despair or the loss of self-worth. Rather, they help me identify the goods gifts God has planted in me. These questions make me thankful. These questions make me able to see the unique gifting God has given me - the one-of-a-kind fingerprints that God has placed on me that make me uniquely able to sing God’s praise like no other person in the world.
One theologian puts it this way: “You are...because God wanted one like you.”
So...what do you like to do? How can you share it with others?
No doubt, this approach will lead you to give to those in need, but not from a sense of the greatness of the need. Instead, you will give out an abiding sense of the greatness of the God who has given you gifts to give others.
Which brings me back to Marge’s story. It was a simple moment, but one in which we shared with one another out of what we had. Truthfully, I hadn’t ever thought to ask about the possibility of electronic books until she shared the information with me. She shared it with me because she had herself experienced the thing she was sharing as a gift that brought her joy. In being aware of the needs of others, begin with the gifts that bring you joy.
I pray that you experience Jesus as a gift that brings you joy. And that your giving to the needs of others finds an eternal spring, a sure foundation, in the abundance of that gift.