“Whatever you did for one of the least of these”

I do not begrudge anyone success.  I firmly believe that if you have the talent, ambition, drive, and chutzpah you can succeed in virtually anything you try.  Look at today’s music industry.  I am not a fan of most Rap music – the lyrics, attitude, and objectification of women and violence in most Rap is, to me, distressing.  But that is my simple opinion.  If Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, Jay Z and so on can convince people to buy their albums, and make a boat load of money doing it, then I applaud their business acumen, not necessarily their music. Personally I am more into palm trees, blown out flip-flops, and (according to family and friends) really ugly Hawaiian shirts.

So jealousy does not motivate what I am about to say.  Rather it is a disdain for people who use, or I should say, abuse the generosity and largess of others.  To whom much is given, much is expected.  It is that philosophy that motivates and drives many local, charitable organizations, most of which are based out of some church.  They are literally a God send to those who have fallen on difficult financial times.  People, who in many cases, have no one else to turn to.  Numerous churches have started food pantries as a way to reach out to the community, and thereby minister to the hungry and needy, taking literally what Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40b).  These churches should be applauded and cheered, the way one would applaud and cheer for some rapper or rocker or athlete.  But they are not cheered or applauded, but rather continue their ministry with a quiet outreach.

I have been to several of these churches, and I can attest to the work they are doing.  There have been many months over the past year, were it not for a food pantry, I would have subsisted on Ramen noodles and cheap peanut butter.  Back in my college days that would have been enough.  But with property taxes, utilities, costs of gas and food rising, and my income taking a 85+% cut due to not being able to find employment I can now do, I find it increasingly necessary to ask help from these pantries.

When I lost my job, and started to get sicker I realized that I needed to adjust my lifestyle and perspective.  I will grant you that I have never been “rich” but I have generally always been comfortable.  There have been periods in my life where things got tight, but I was always able to soldier through those times, and survive.  Now, however, things are different.  Between the loss of income, the costs of doctor’s visits and the ever expanding list of medications I take, my “disposable” income is zero.  A trip to the “public healthcare” doctor consumes nearly a quarter of my unemployment for that week.  And so at times I rely on others generosity to survive.

I am, what you would call “cheap” and not one who needs a lot of fancy things.  I drive a 16-year-old car that, when able, I work on myself; my house is paid for, save the annual “rental fee” to the state; I have no Wii, X-box, or PlayStation (although I do have an old Game Boy from back in the late ’80’s, the one with the spinach green screen, somewhere); no “sound system”, but I do have a record player and a radio that plays CDs.  My TV was given to me after I lost the last one in a divorce.  So, basically I live minimally and I am content.

I guess it is due to my, what some would call, minimalist lifestyle that I take great umbrage with some of the people who have started using food pantries.  Several weeks ago I was at one pantry, and over heard the discussion between two women.  “Ethel” was telling “Mabel” that she was so glad to find out about the pantry.  It seems that Ethel’s hours were cut at work last year, and money was getting tight.  She went on to explain that she and her husband had a couple of teens, and it was getting costly to feed them and pay the bills.  I can fully understand.  Then Ethel went on to say that the $600 p/month they pay in car payments, along with their mortgage payment and other expenses made it look like the family was going to have to forgo their vacation this year.

That’s when I my head nearly exploded.  That’s also when I finally took a long hard look at Ethel.  She was wearing several gold necklaces, don’t know if they were real or fake; had acrylic, sculpted nails (I’m told those are not cheap); a recently done dye and weave and fairly new designer jeans, shoes and top.  I watched in amazement as she loaded up the cart, and then complained that there wasn’t “enough” of a selection of meats.  She finished her “shopping” and headed off to her car.  I watched as she loaded up the generosity of this church into the back of a 1-2 year old Tahoe.

Again, I do not begrudge ANYONE success.  I think it is awesome that this family can afford a new car, new clothes and possibly a vacation.  It is, however, galling for someone to have the temerity to go to a food pantry, and take limited resources from someone who truly needs them.  Granted I do not know the family’s financial situation, but if you have lost a portion of your income, and are not sure if you are going to be able to replace it anytime soon, you economize, downsize, and work to limit your expenses.  That is only common sense!  To game the system so that you can maintain some form or fashion of a “lifestyle” is tantamount to theft.

I don’t know if this woman will be allowed back at this particular food pantry, the staff was quite taken aback by her appearance and attitude.  I do know that there are people suffering and struggling everyday, people who need the generosity of the community to survive.  My only hope is that there are not that many “Ethels” out there taking from those who truly need help.

It is not my place to judge, that is for God alone.  But as Matthew 25:45 says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

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About Joseph Ordower

I'm a middle aged, some would say curmudgeon, who is sick, tired and truly frustrated with the way things are going in a country (America) that he loves, honors and respects.
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