About a year ago, I drove twice to Manitoba. First, to pay a final visit to a sister in law, Mary, severely ill in a nursing home. Later, it was to attend her funeral.
Mary’s life was a difficult one. At the age of sixteen she had developed mental problems. A number of methods of treatment had been tried, none with great success. She had spent much of her life in sheltered employment at an institution. In her later years, she had been able to live independently in a residence, helped by a government day program that provided supervised activities, medication, and help with living problems to people with mental disorders. After the program was terminated for reasons of cost, she spent her last years in an (obviously more expensive!) nursing home. Eventually, the lithium she had been taking as a medication for much of her life affected her kidneys. Dialysis proved less and less effective, and ultimately she died.
A wasted life? Perhaps. But at her funeral, a different picture emerged. A picture of someone who gave what she could—cards and messages on family birthdays; attending family reunions at Christmas time with great good humour; singing carols with her very lovely voice. Above all, though, her very neediness had drawn out the best in so many other people who had helped her make her path through life.
There is a lesson here. We live in a world that is much tempted to abort the unwanted or defective unborn, and euthanize the incurably ill, thinking that such have no usefulness for the rest of us. Yet God sent His Son to earth, and Jesus sent his disciples out to evangelize, in a deliberately needy condition. The baby lay helpless in a manger: the disciples were told to go out without money, food or change of clothing. People responded with kindness to that neediness. So, even before a word was preached, such people experienced the Gospel truth that “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.
Perhaps we need the needy more than we think. Not for what they give us, but for the compassion and helpfulness they draw out of us. They make us better people.
Perhaps, too, there is a lesson here about evangelism. Evangelism does not require bribery, great theological knowledge, or well financed crusades. It can succeed by asking those outside to show compassion for the very human suffering and needs of its ministers. It is the martyrs who are the seed of the church.
On the day of judgment, we are told, we will recognize that Christ was in the hungry, the naked, the poor, the sick, the captives.
How have we responded to His needs?