There is a man I know. I’ll call him John. He and his wife collect donations for the poorest of the poor. He knows they are the poorest of the poor because he did his research and found the people who have nothing. They don’t receive federal assistance. No food stamps. No welfare checks. In their need they turn not to the government but to the Catholic Church. Will we meet them there? And how will we meet them?
Saint Theresa of Calcutta, so the story goes, turned down an offer of money from a wealthy donor. He wanted to give some of his excess. It would probably be a tax deduction for him. On the other hand, and Indian man sent her a little bit of money with a note explaining how he had given up cigarettes for a month to save for his donation. She rejoiced.
Both men offered to share what they had with the poor. The difference is that the first person, though generous, gave from his excess. It didn’t hurt. The second made a sacrifice. Many of the contributions that John collects from donations bins left out at parishes consist of people’s leftovers. Expired tins of food. Clothing that one might wear to paint in. Not for public consumption. Is this really how Jesus wants us to help the poor?
In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus tells the story about the widow who put two coins in the poor box, while the wealthy made larger offerings. “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” The widow had Jesus’ approval.
Both the widow and the man who gave up smoking made a sacrifice. It hurt. They did without in order that others might have. I remember the opening remarks of a bishop who was addressing wealthy donors at a fundraising dinner. He said that the poor needed the people gathered there, but more than that, they needed the poor. And why would you and I need the poor?
The poor are our ticket into Heaven. Jesus gave us explicit instructions in the Gospel of Mathew, chapter twenty-five.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.
That’s a very small price to pay for eternal life.