Proximity means,” nearness in space, time, or relationship.”
I was there when a student I was mentoring received a phone call about his grandfather’s passing. I could hear the pain in his voice as he talked on the phone with his parents. I could see the tears rolling down his face. I could feel the weight of his loss in our hug. My heart broke for him and his family in that moment. I understood his pain. I felt his pain. When we are in close proximity to people when they are hurting and in pain, it changes our perspective and gives us a deep sense of compassion. I know that I would have done anything for this young man in that moment to ease his pain. I’m sure you have been in similar moments. Proximity to a hurting world is vital to developing a greater heart of compassion and loving our neighbor.
Last week in part one of these two blog posts, we looked at Matthew 26:11 where Jesus stated, “You will always have the poor among you.” We talked about how this was no justification for poverty, but actually was a call to eliminate poverty. You can read about that discussion here: Part 1
I want us to take another look at Matthew 26:11. I have heard people, much smarter than me, suggest that when Jesus stated, “You will always have the poor among you,” Jesus was not only quoting Deuteronomy 15 (like we discussed in part one), but Jesus was also expecting his followers to live in close proximity to the poor and the outcast. I think Jesus gave us a great example of this way of life.
During Jesus’ life, He lived in very close proximity amongst the poor, the sick, the diseased, the outcast, and the destitute. In fact, Jesus identified with them. Jesus when he saw these people, “He was moved with compassion on them.” Compassion is having a gut-level emotion that causes us to do something to help those who are hurting and in need. Jesus spent time healing, caring for, and walking with those who were hurting and in need. Today, there is a lot of need in our world, yet if you are like me, we would rather distance ourselves from those on the underside of life than getting involved.
But if we are unwilling to engage these issues on a heart, relational level, moving our selves into close proximity, we can quickly commodify, objectify, and make general assumptions of those living on the edges and margins. When we objectify the “other” we now see them either as problems to solve or something to be disposed of on the side of the road. We will see them as a commodity we wonder how can they benefit me, my culture, my economy, or how will they take from me. We will make assumptions of whole people groups by stating that they are all, drugs addicts, rapist, murders, job stealers, destroys culture and economics. Don’t get me wrong there are a few people looking to do harm, but to categorize all poor people like this is disingenuous and well, wrong and I believe we know it.
One thing that I continue to discover in my own life is that following Jesus means following Him to the margins of our society. Following Jesus means following him to where people are hurting, in pain, oppressed, in prisoned and lost in a foreign country. Following Jesus means going to the places he went when he walked on this earth.
For me, this has been visiting a church in Tijuana that is housing people seeking refugee status in the United States. In the fall of 2018, I went with a Mexican pastor, Pastor Albert, who was moved with compassion to go and provide as much food as possible to these people who were living outdoors in the cold rain. As we were cleaning up after feeding around 200 hundred people, the pastor invited a few people back to his church so they could have a better and safer place to stay. Noe was one of those people
Noe was a bright-eyed young man with a 3-month-old sick daughter living with his wife in El Salvador. He had come north looking for a better way of life and fleeing violence back at home. His left arm was also in constant pain due to a botched surgery that severed a few nerves. Yet, the next day when the pastor went back to the park to provide food, Noe was the first to go. He carried the heaviest items and serve lunch to the people there. Getting to know him more changed my perspective on many of the people who were there. He was not what the news, politicians, and some evangelical leaders want us to believe about these people. I heard incredibly sad stories as to why people left their home. I also saw a faith that I had rarely seen anywhere else. It challenged me and my walk. Seeing and hearing all of this, I wanted to help as much as I could.
- Proximity will help us see people how Jesus sees them, precious people who bear the image of God and are loved as much as you and I.
- Proximity will help us live into God’s calling to love the “least of these.”
- Proximity allows us to hear stories and know names. When we are able to put a face to a story, we will have greater compassion.
- Proximity will allow us to understand people’s pain and allowing yourself to be challenged to see things from a different perspective.
- Proximity is not going one time to say you went. It is sitting down and spending time with those who are hurting.
- Proximity is not about having a token poor person we can call a friend or having them help us solve a problem or for us to have a story to share, but it is simply about loving our neighbor.
It is nearly impossible for anyone to know, understand, and feel the hurt and pain of someone else from a distance. Imagine how different my compassion would have been if I heard about the loss of the student’s grandfather through a text. We cannot carry one another’s burden when we refuse to build relationships with those who are hurting especially with those on the underside of life. So go, live in proximity to those who are hurting in our world!
How to do this
I know that not everyone lives close to people who are living in poverty or know someone who is seeking asylum or an immigrant. But start somewhere and do something!
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen, eating with those you serve.
- Go on a trip to the borderlands (come with us Be2Live.org) and see first hand what is going on. We would love to host you and introduce you to our friends who live in the borderlands between Mexico and the United States. Here is our website: Be2Live
- Research organizations and ministries in your city, county, or state that is doing good work and volunteer.
- If you are a person of faith, start praying that God would open doors for you. Then when He does, walk through them.