In a church conversation about building affordable housing on an empty lot they owned, one of the members stood up and – honestly – asked, “Are there people who need affordable housing? I’ve never seen poor people around here.”
Actually there were hundreds of people in need of affordable housing around that church building. But they were invisible to that particular parishioner and she wasn’t the only one. Sometimes we don’t notice that there are people who live among us who struggle.
There are consequences for closing our eyes to the needs of our neighbors. First of all we miss out on connecting with people with different life experiences. And most of all, we miss out on opportunities to serve in the name of Jesus Christ. (That’s what we do, Church, right?)
HH and I traveled to lovely Manchester, VT for his birthday in 2o16 and everything was tidy and trimmed and quaint. Upon mentioning Manchester’s perfection to a waiter serving us burgers, he told us that – actually – there are many, many poor people in Manchester, VT (Vermont’s poverty rate was 11.9% in 2016.) But the poor are expected to stay away from tourist areas. “Tourists don’t want to see poor people while they are on vacation.”
We cannot be the Church of Jesus Christ if we sequester ourselves away from the poor, the broken, and the unlovely. “Not wanting to see” neighbors in need is the opposite of the Jesus’ teaching. Jesus truly saw people in their real condition: shamed, bleeding, covered in sores, desperate, ostracized, insecure. We are called to open our eyes and see our neighbors too. All our neighbors.