One of the problems we face when we grow older is how we begin to understand that some of the problems we see have deeper roots and causes, and that taking care of the problem in front of us doesn't take care of the bigger problem.
It means we might find ourselves paralyzed by the big task, or discouraged enough that we turn away even from helping out on the smaller level. As just one person, or one group of people, or one church, what can we do to solve a problem that may have been dogging our society or culture for years? We see a man sleeping under a bridge and we want to help him, but if we give him money and he really does spend it on food, how have we addressed the real problem for him? Would more money do it? Maybe, unless he has mental health issues that keep him from holding a regular job or dealing with the matters of everyday life in a good way. What do we do then?
The first church I worked at was during my internship. They are a good church, although they did think differently than a lot of people around them do -- including me, as it happens. That made things interesting.
Anyway, shortly before I finished my internship some members decided they wanted to add to their ministry and work in the town. The pastor told me that our job at the meeting would be to help them keep their sights low, rather than get tangled up in big-picture issues that would loom so large people might get too discouraged to do anything. A woman at the meeting suggested we do something to help some emancipated teens who lived in town. Although they weren't yet 18, they had been emancipated from their parents because of unhealthy home lives. The kids had jobs as well as going to school, and this woman worked with a group that helped them get around, learn how to budget their finances, live on their own and so forth. She noted that some of the girls had been asked to their prom, but on minimum wage salaries there was no way they could afford prom dresses. Maybe we could collect used prom dresses or have a fund-raiser to help them pay for the dress.
The pastor had been exactly right about what would happen at the meeting. We digressed onto issues of poverty, income inequality, where the minimum wage should be, the sexism that made girls buy dresses while guys could just rent tuxedos, and several others that I can't remember. But he was able to help them stay focused on the needs of the kids in their own community, and they wound up having a fund-raiser to help buy the dresses.
That was all we did, and that was OK. In this discussion with his listeners, Jesus authorizes us to do small things. We can't ignore the big things, but we may have to take other steps to address them, perhaps through the ballot box or expressions of opinion in a public forum. In the meantime, it's OK to do small things like offer a cup of cold water to someone.
In fact, if you listen to Mother Teresa, it's more than OK. It's how we sort of "clump together" to change the world. "We can do no great things, only small things with great love," she is supposed to have said once. And the love is the multiplier, if you like, that makes the small things great. Any person of any religion -- or of none -- who does something for someone else out of love multiples the impact of what they have done. Not only is there help, there is caring and compassion. And anyone who's ever been on the receiving end of a good deed done from duty knows how much less it is than one done from care and compassion.
So, Christian, where are you and I in this matter? Think about our multiplier! We do things not only with our own great love, but with the love of God as well! The very love that brought his Son to the world, the very love of that Son that offered himself for us -- that's the love that multiplies what we can do for others.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminds the younger man not to continue doing his good deeds quietly, because they won't stay hidden. Their impact on those helped will be obvious, but the impact on us? On us as we spend our days looking for the ways we can do even the small things for others? You don't have to do that for very long to see a different kind of person in the mirror than used to be there. And there you have not just one life changed, the life of the one you helped, but two -- yours also. As well as a start on changing the world beyond you.
Big things indeed!