The talk Thursday morning was about Ben Carson’s view of shelters, and about the impending Health Care bill. The usual banter about the NBA or NFL was muted. Guests raised their fears that things are getting worse. Then a guest shared with me his “Word for the Day.”
“Do you know this verse?” he asked, “The liberal soul shall be made fat.” Though I’ve lived in the Bible Belt now over twenty years, I had to confess I was not familiar with that verse.
“Where in the Bible does it say that?”
“Somewhere in Proverbs.”
I got out my phone and did a search. Proverbs 11:25 (King James Version of course), “The liberal soul shall be made fat; and that watereth shall be watered also himself.” Or in more contemporary English, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (NIV).
“So stingy people will become emaciated?” I asked.
I thought of Scrooge. He’s never portrayed as a fat man. Same for Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons.”
Santa Claus on the other hand offers a rotund picture of robust giving.
For misers there is never enough. The deadly sin of avarice or greed feeds upon fears of not enough.
The guest shook his head, “Ain’t no telling a rich man that he’s gonna go hungry. He just won’t listen.”
“God is fat” a guest said.
I showed my age, “Is that with an ‘f’ or a “phat?’”
The other old guys around me laughed.
We came back to the smug comment Ben Carson made the other day. As he toured a homeless shelter he was pleased to find it not very hospitable. Carson said, “A comfortable setting… would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”
“He ought to stay in a shelter. Then he might shut up.”
“He’s clueless. He don’t know us. And he don’t care.”
“He’s got a skinny soul.”
I have seen the liberal souls of our guests. They share the wisdom of the streets. They’ll tell new people what they need to know in order to survive. They share cigarettes, socks, food, catholes, blankets. They share out of their deep knowledge that they are in this struggle together.
Carson well represents a soul that is not liberal, not generous. And he represents a president whose soul is avaricious and thus also vicious. Trump has called poor people “morons.” Trump’s proposed budget would slash or abolish programs that have helped people below the poverty line, including affordable housing, banking, weatherizing homes, job training, paying home heating bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters.
Trump will cut the very resources that in the past month or so have gotten a number of our most regular guests into housing. After years on the streets they now have a place to call “home.” Most have moved into modest apartments, some into rooming houses. When they get their place they proudly come around to Manna House and show us their keys. Trump with his emaciated soul wants to end this. He says it creates “dependency.” This comes from a man whose own wealth was inherited and has been rewarded by a financial system that pampers the wealthiest while punishing the poor.
At Manna House we try to be the “liberal soul.” So we believe that treating people with respect, welcoming them with hospitality, not only enriches the lives of our guests but our souls as well. Hospitality provides the space for wholeness, for seeing our bonds with each other, our interdependence, for nurturing the desire to seek a life consistent with the respect and welcome shared.
A former guest came by the other day to thank us, “You all believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. You made me feel like a human being again. It made me think, ‘I don’t have to just take this. I can try again.’” He is now housed and working.
Another guest said, “I feel like for every step forward I take two steps back. Ain’t gonna stop trying though. You haven’t given up on me and I’m not giving up either.”
The problem with misers is that with their illiberal soul they only see deficiency. They do not believe that there is enough for everybody. Scarcity stalks their souls. Hence all of the worry about being taken advantage of by people in poverty, “welfare cheats,” “foodstamp fraud.” So Trump speaks about “how taxpayers are being shaken down by this outrageously mismanaged government program.”
The Gospel for this Sunday is about the Good Shepherd, a “liberal soul.” Jesus says his life and work is that of a good shepherd. He shares his life generously. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He points out that thieves and bandits threaten the sheep. In doing so he recalls the prophet Ezekiel’s description of avaricious political and economics leaders.
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Woe to you shepherds of the nation who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally’” (Ezekiel 34:2-5).
Ezekiel gives an accurate picture of illiberal and greedy shepherds. Ezekiel then speaks of the divine judgment that leaves the greedy shepherds emaciated and the starving sheep fattened and healthy.
“’I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice’” (Ezekiel 34:14-16).
“They’re just mean,” a guest added to our conversation on this morning. “They hate us. They want us to die. I’m not giving them the pleasure.”
“Keep living,” I said, “We love you.”