Just about every day at least one person will come into the office asking for financial assistance. These aren’t parishioners or anyone with a specific connection to our church—just people who come in looking for help. I’ve told many of them that giving assistance to people in need is one of my favorite things to do, and it is. But what I haven’t told them is that I also hate it.
I love it, and I hate it. I love it when I can actually make a difference in someone’s life right away—right then—and get a power bill paid off or keep a family in an apartment for at least another week. I love seeing someone so overcome with appreciation that their eyes water up and they throw their arms around me in a spontaneous hug. But, to tell you the truth, most of the time it wears me down.
Almost all of the people who come to me seeking help are totally focused on their problems. After introducing myself and asking the person’s name, I usually say something very generic like, “Tell me what’s going on with you today.” The answers I get are far-ranging, but they center on a very narrow theme: “I lost my job” or “My wife is sick” or “My disability check didn’t come in” or “My car is broken down.” Over and over, I am presented with an urgent situation that has a person totally stuck. Rarely does anyone ever give me a reason to hope that things might change because rarely can the people who come in the door afford to dream about anything more than one night’s rent or one day’s food. And hearing that time after time takes all the mercy and patience and kindness right out of me.
But who am I to judge?
In John 5:1-15, Jesus walks up to a man who has been paralyzed for 38 years, and, sensing that he had been there for a long time, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be healed?” But the man is so stuck in his predicament that he can’t even tell that salvation is staring him in the face. So he looks at Jesus and says, “Sir, I have no one to place me in the pool when the water is stirred up.” When I read that, I want to reach back through two-thousand years of history and slap him! Just say, “Yes sir! Please! More than anything!” But unlike me, Jesus refuses to let the man’s own shortsightedness get in the way, and he looks down at him, ignoring his apparent apathy, and says, “Get up, take up your mat, and walk.” And the man does.
But the man’s story is my story, too. Sometimes I get in such a funk that I can’t see beyond my own problems. In those moments, I can’t even hear myself saying how hard things are or how long I expect to be trapped in the circumstance. I’m so blinded by my own faithlessness that I don’t know how to reach up and say, “Jesus, please help me.” Who am I to judge another who is unable to say the same?
I give thanks that we believe in a God who doesn’t wait for us to ask for help before coming to our aid. I give thanks that God loves us so much that he would give his son to die for us while we were still lost and wandering sinners. I rejoice that salvation is offered not only to those who understand what is being presented to them but even to people like me, who from time to time get so bogged down in their own troubles that they can’t tell God is reaching down to help them.