The obscure story of an 89-year-old paleta vendor named Fidencio Sanchez melted hearts around the world last week. For 23 years, Mr. Sanchez has earned a living pushing a cart of Mexican frozen fruit bars around the Chicago neighborhood of Little Village. Two strangers who thought this life was too hard for a man of almost 90 started a GoFundMe campaign, writing that Mr. Sanchez and his wife recently lost their only daughter, and asking people to pitch in and help make their life a little easier.
So people pitched in. The initial goal of $3,000 was smoked in no time, and by the end of an 11-day campaign, 17,447 people from more than 60 countries had donated $384,290. These strangers from around the world who were moved by compassion to help Mr. Sanchez were likely people of all faiths and of no faith, but among them might have been some who thought of these words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, and I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in…” and when Jesus’ listeners said they didn’t remember helping him, he said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
But a Christian minister I won’t name says ordinary, everyday poor people shouldn’t be in our minds when we hear those verses, and he cautions against thinking Jesus wants us to see his image in the faces of the poor. Rev. X warns, “The passage does not offer the generic message: ‘care for the poor and you’re caring for me,’” and says, “’The least of these’ is not a blanket statement about the church’s responsibility to meet the needs of all the poor (though we do not want to be indifferent to hurting people).” (Nice save)
Heaven forbid the Bible should give us carte blanche to go around helping too many poor people or the wrong ones, and Rev. X sets us straight. He says we shouldn’t take from these verses a “concern for ‘social justice,’ or a general shame over not doing enough.” Instead he says Jesus was only calling listeners to support Christian ministers dependent on help to carry out their ministry (which, by coincidence, would include him). (PS – He says if you don’t help you will go to hell.)
Laurence J. Peter said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile,” and maybe neither does preaching in one. Story after story in the Gospels wasn’t about Jesus fighting for and looking after ministers; he was fighting for and looking after the poor, weak, oppressed and outcast. Fortunately last week 17,447 people showed us how it’s done.
As for the Rev. X’s of the world, if you want to dismiss social justice, it’s your call. But at least have the integrity not to pretend you got the idea from Jesus.