Ye Have Done It Unto Me
A short bus trip to the supermarket turned out to include a spiritual experience.
No sooner did I get on the bus than someone directly behind me began coughing and hacking and it seemed as if he would never stop. This irritated me to no end. Last month the same thing happened and as a result I was bedridden and unable to even think of eating for almost a week. Not being Jesus, Peter or Kenneth Copeland I knew I could not cast the disease demons out and heal him. I felt like smacking him in the mouth and telling him to put on a surgical mask and move to the back of the bus. It remains to be seen if he has made me ill.
Upon getting to the supermarket and completing my purchases I went out to the bus stop and sat down. I had 20 minutes to wait. It was a chilly grey Saint Patrick ’s Day and the first thing I noticed was the absence of ravens. Ravens are usually omnipresent and not to see a single one was unusual.
As I sat there a fellow rode up on his bike. He asked me about the arrival of the bus. As it turned out we were waiting for the same bus. He sat down and pulled out of his pack a reduced price prepared sandwich the type you find in the deli sections of large supermarkets in the morning and which, if are not sold by noon, are thrown in the dumpster in the afternoon and written off at tax time.
He ate it ravenously as if he could not get it into his stomach soon enough. As he ate I noticed his blue jeans were unwashed and stained, his coat worn and faded and his shoes coated with mud.
Living far below the poverty level myself I felt compassion and solidarity, yes empathy, for him. He was, in a sense, my brother. But it was also clear to me I was better off than he was. I was going home to a very humble abode, but it was a home and the refrigerator had food in it. I would be making soup for supper. From the earth stained clothing he wore it appeared to me that he had slept in the bushes and would be doing the same tonight.
As I watched him eat I wondered if I still had the dollar bill in my wallet that I had discovered yesterday. I did. I got up and asked him if he would be offended if I offered it to him. He wanted to know why I wished to give it to him. I explained I was also poor and understood what it was like to have very little. He took it. I remembered I had some change and also gave it to him.
We didn’t speak anymore until the bus came. He finished his sandwich and I waited and my thoughts began to wander. I remembered the poor people’s campaign in 1968 and wondered why the poor do not organize and petition the government as they once did. There are many more poor than there are rich. As long as the pretense of a democratic society exists there is a smidgen of hope that the majority can achieve justice. Having seen the Republican attitude in the last decade toward poverty and the poor themselves I understand it was this activity to aid the poor and disadvantaged that sealed Martin Luther King Jrs fate even more than his opposition to the Vietnam War.
When the bus pulled up and I was getting ready to get on he spoke to me. “I was a dollar short for the bus fare, thank you.” I almost cried and was so glad I had listened to my heart. I slapped him on the shoulder and said “God works in mysterious ways” and when I said it I felt it was a trite and meaningless comment on my part, but it came from my heart.
Poverty has been a function of capitalism from the beginning in this nation. While the huddled masses from Europe were invited to come to our shores when they got here the only work was as underpaid laborers in the capitalist mills that were the fortune generating apparatus of the corporate elite of the day.
Not only that, the Jews, the Catholics, the Irish and most others who came here were treated like animals or worse. A man who owned an animal at least felt the obligation to see it was fed and housed and given medical care so it had the strength to work. No such obligation was recognized with regard to the foreign laborer by the American capitalist. There’s an old mining story of an Irish miner about to go down into the mine with a mule which was used to haul up the coal. His supervisor tells him to take care of the mule. The Irishman asks his supervisor “What about me boss.” The supervisor replied. “We can always hire another Irishman but we have to buy the mule.” (This is a paraphrase.)
I offer two links to videos here. One is a short feature of the 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign. The second link is a lecture on the same topic by Gordon K. Mantler a sociologist and historian of the civil rights era of post-WWII USA. It is titled “Power to the Poor-- 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign” This video is longer but worth the time in order to review the history of the poor in America.
On the bus trip home I began to think how Bill O’reilly would comment on a poor people’s crusade such as was seen in 1968. Let’s try and put it together.
We can imagine O’reilley’s perennially red and wrinkled face as he points his finger. We can imagine him extolling the virtues of American capitalism while commenting: “Why don’t these poor people just find a job and make something for themselves like Ben Carson? In America there is opportunity for all.”
We can imagine him digress. “But most of these so called poor are drug addicts and could not pass an employment screening and most are unreliable having no place to live and not showing up for work which makes me wonder if they want to work at all. The poor have no one but themselves to blame for their poverty. They lack the initiative to get up and achieve success and just want it handed to them. If they need to use drugs and can’t show up for work they need to be eliminated or at least incarcerated.”
This brings me back to the title which comes from the bible. It comes from the 25th chapter of the gospel of Matthew. Jesus, the compassionate and just one, says this beginning with verse 31.
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Now is the time to use your civil rights. Tomorrow they may be gone. Are you a sheep or a goat?