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What does it mean to be our brother’s keeper?
Some years ago our family took a financial/lifestyle tumble that landed us in territory I hadn't seen since I was a little girl — a territory where you no longer own a home, where you turn the heat to 60 and forget the AC, where new clothes and fast food are no longer options, where you use odds-and-ends stamps to make postage. A territory where you are finally dependent — at least for a while — on the compassion of others to get you through.
Adding to the crisis was our unusual family situation: Though we are senior citizens, my husband and I still are raising four children with disabilities, three of whom we adopted in our younger and more well-to-do days, our personal “brother’s keeper project.”
While between the two of us we could manage, when my husband’s routine knee surgery turned into a nine-month disability, I was crushed and desperate. I went to my doctor for help. She gave me a sample of antidepressants but I never took them.
Instead, God intervened, sending a veritable army of brothers and sisters in Christ to help us. Families with six or seven kids marched in with full-course dinners. Neighboring churches showed up with coolers full of frozen food to stock our freezer. Firewood appeared from nowhere and teenagers came and stacked it. Home-school moms collected hand-me-downs to keep my growing boys warm all winter. A small private foundation paid a month's utility bills. Unexpected packages arrived and out tumbled gift cards and spiritual books and handmade presents (thanks to Elizabeth Foss for mobilizing the online community).
The generosity of the church was complemented by the generosity of the community. School personnel made sure my children had supplies. And in a twist I never thought would be part of my life experience, instead of taking stars off the Christmas tree to buy gifts for a family in need, our family became part of the stars.
Please understand that I'm not telling this story for pity. I'm telling this story because it represents a triumph — the sort of small triumph that occurs in communities across the country every day. The triumph when in the midst of whatever suffering we have, the hearts of friends, neighbors — and even strangers — are moved to do what they can to meet the need in a completely spontaneous, autonomous and authentic way.
My experience underscores why the government cannot — and should not claim to be able to — replace the role God has given us as Christians to care for others. And it has affirmed for me that charity is a personal responsibility, not one any politician should use to shame us into adopting a pet program funded through force.
The fact is that Jesus calls us to a life of compassion and charity in a real and concrete way. Our faith is rich in this kind of imagery: Mary breaking her alabaster jar to anoint Jesus with special ointment. Jesus kneeling to wash His disciples' dirty feet.
I know how Peter must have felt at that moment — unworthy, humble, confused, but loved beyond measure. I know that the Christmas Eve surprise of a special feast and warm bathrobes for our whole family was a lot different than taking a government check out of an envelope.
Charity is inherently individual — poignantly personal and real. Acts of charity transform those who give and those who receive. As someone who has given much when times were good and received much when times were tough, I can tell you it is much more real — and life-changing — to receive from the body of Christ than to receive from the government. In the hands of our heavenly Father, I can see how — as always — He has used all things for good in our family's situation that difficult year, building within our church and community more interdependence, awareness and compassion.
While Scripture may seem to lend itself for political use, we need to listen for God's voice. Was Jesus speaking to political systems or to us as individuals? Has God ever asked us to build a bigger government? Does He really want us to pass our own personal responsibility to the poor, the hungry, the disabled, the lonely over to an impersonal monolithic bureaucracy with all the waste that implies?
Or should we rise above the political use of Scripture and apply God’s words as He intended, applying them to our own personal lives that we might do even more to help those closer to home so that at least a few — and perhaps a multitude — will turn their hearts to God rather than the government?
Curtis, who blogs at mommylife.net, is a mother of 12 and author from Lovettsville.