OUTER APPEARANCE VS HEART
The disciples were astonished to hear that it is very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, because, in their experience, the "righteous" people were the "religious" folks. And they were the ones who were wealthy enough to develop and parade their religiosity, so as to be perceived as righteous.
Don't we often see through those same eyes? We so easily assume that if people are "properly dressed" and "attend services regularly" and "give a lot of money" (which by the way, is not the same as giving generously, but that's another story) and "are involved in many church programs" and so forth, the they must be "righteous." At the same time we easily look down at people who don't fulfill those "religiously righteous" criteria.
And yet, many times people in poverty (or in chronic poor health, or suffering from depression, or disabled in some way, or "from the wrong side of the tracks") simply cannot meet the religiously righteous criteria. Truly poverty-stricken people spend their entire lives trying just to survive. And survival at that level can take a lot more effort and times than the jobs of many wealthy people. Also, because of their poverty, they often are not healthy enough to have the energy to "participate" very much. They cannot afford babysitters so they can attend and participate in events themselves. They are not well enough dressed (and often, not well bathed), and so they are looked down upon and snubbed by the religiously righteous, and thus are rejected from participating.
People in poverty also often have difficult underlying reasons for their poverty, such as mental illness, lack of education (do you have any idea how difficult it is to "be a good Christian" when you can't read?), or have been brought up in situations that have made it very difficult, if not impossible, to "fit it" with the "good, righteous crowd."
And yet my experiences with people on the street has shown me that many of them are open and willing and desiring to follow Jesus - just as those uneducated, smelly fishermen, Peter and James and John and Andrew, were - and Jesus eagerly calls them and accepts them - and they become faithful followers and disciples just as those men did. (It's instructive to remember that Jesus and His disciples lived outdoors much of the time, with pretty scrappy meals, and pretty much just the clothes on their backs. Can you imagine how they looked - and possibly smelled?)
Hmmm... perhaps it is easier to follow when you do NOT have riches and places of honor. Salvation, entering the kingdom of heaven, is truly impossible for mankind themselves to attain - and yet, if one has always been able to attain other things by money or effort, it can be very difficult to accept not being able to attain salvation those ways, too. Salvation has to come from God - who gladly accepts all who will believe in His Son Jesus, who IS THE WAY.
And Father never looks on the outward appearance, including both "looks" and "behaviors." A lot of people in poverty are seen as badly behaved, either in simple terms of "lack of refinement and manners," but also in terms of things like addictions, rough language, apparent unemployed laziness, stealing or begging their next meal. But Father looks right past that, to see hearts that are very often wide open to Him, that long for Him.
And at the same time, Father looks right past the "good, upright behavior" of well-dressed, well-spoken, highly educated, do-good people. And looking right past all that "goodness" or "religious righteousness," He too often sees hearts that are wrapped up in not only love of wealth, and self-righteous smugness and arrogance, but often far worse attitudes, desires, hatred... and worse.
People can change their outside.
Only You can change their hearts.
And the heart is what counts.
A changed outside does not change the heart.
But a changed heart changes everything!
Is the "established church" ready to equally accept those who are followers of Jesus, and yet are in poverty? It should be. But...
It has always been a problem, hasn't it?
We may be called to leave everything of earthly value (even our own families) for Jesus' sake... but eternal life with Jesus will be infinitely worth it all. Small loss, enormous gain! Verse 30: "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first."
(Okay... I've been kind of wondering about the whole street ministry thing that I've been involved with. It has seemed lately as though my part in it (okay, my "involvement" in it ... maybe I have been "involved" more than "part of it" ... oh dear) has been kind of disintegrating. But maybe what's really needed is to let You change my heart, my attitudes, my arrogance, my presumptions and presuppositions...)
Please cleanse my heart.