SCRIPTURE: John 5: 1-15
KEY VERSES (6-9): “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”
The so-called “Misery Index” is a statistic economists use to measure a nation’s “misery,” simply by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. The higher the two statistics, the greater a nation’s misery.
Samuel (Mark Twain) Clemens was none to impressed with stats. “There’s lies, damn lies and statistics,” he quipped.
Master manipulators can toy with stats the way manipulators can toy with scriptures cherry-picked from the bible. But stats aren’t all bad, contrary to the satirical Mr. Clemens’ claim. Stats can and do serve us well in analyzing all kinds of things, and in charting plans for the future.
My problem with stats pertaining to poverty is that they’re empty of flesh and blood. As helpful as they may be in determining the severity of hunger and homelessness and yes, unemployment and inflation, too—stats are dead numbers on a page or computer screen.
To comprehend the misery of people who are statistics in “The Misery Index,” you have to get a real taste of their misery by getting up-close and personal with them.
Consider the thermometer. It’s is a great tool in the doctor’s bag for obtaining a cold, diagnostic number of a patient with a hot fever. But to see and sense and determine the real misery of the patient, the doctor has to be up-close and personal. The doctor needs to know or get to know the patient. The doctor has to hear the patient speak and see the patient’s pain in order to bring healing and relief.
Sometimes, a doctor can be just the friend you need to lift you out of your physical poverty and the mental poverty that comes with illness.
Sometimes you can be a doctor to some poor soul stuck in the poverty of a slum, a street corner or shantytown. The “physician of souls” needs all the assistance he can get.
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Julia Demaree is the director of the Emmaus House, an Orthodox Christian ministry in Harlem that, according to its website, “extends healing, hope and hospitality to an average of 3,200 women, children and families every month.” Part of an article that Demaree wrote for the Orthodox Peace Foundation’s “In Communion” (www.incommunion.org) website caught my eye:
“My heart always skips a beat when I engage these folks on the street whose marginal lives are held by such fragile threads. They do not have the luxury or wherewithal to hide or to camouflage their poverty, their disappointments and their desperation. Life is proclaimed on their faces, in their body smell, in their empty pockets, in their outstretched hands. I tend to move closer to them so that some of their vulnerability will rub off on me, inform my life of the need for humility, and the need to beg for love.”
If I may sum up Ms. Demaree’s eloquent words, the poor don’t have “the luxury or wherewithal” to hide their many miseries, which can’t be seen, smelled or felt in any economic statistic.
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In the story of the disabled man by the side of the healing pool, Jesus finds a poor soul suffering from a variety of miseries that can be called poverties. This is a man who couldn’t hide his misery if he wanted to. He’s suffering from the miseries—that is, the poverties—of physical pain, of emotional and mental anguish, of disappointment and heartache. He’s suffering the misery of torment by oppressive, uncaring religious leaders unwilling to help him, least of all on the Sabbath Day! Jesus, the “Great Physician,” in fact gets himself into trouble with the Pharisees (as usual) by healing and giving a new life to this poor man on the Sabbath.
Jesus deplored misery. Jesus dispensed mercy, curing people of the miseries (poverties) of everything from sin to severe illness.
Material poverty bites people with all kinds of other poverties; the stinging bite of it spreads miseries that no economic “Misery Index” can begin to expose.
I suppose there’s no such thing as a statistical “Mercy Index.” But you’ll see the healing power of mercy at work for yourself if you get to know the poor and walk with them in their shoes a while, dispensing the simple but potent mercies of friendship and care.