Jesus has always been a big fan of engaging with the world, or, as he phrases it, “being in the world”. While he sees the “concerns of this world” as being distinct from his mandate (“my kingdom is not of this world”) and warns us against becoming overly concerned about these concerns, he still emphasizes the importance of being involved in the world as a force for good, even while maintaining a healthy spiritual distance from it.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus never shied away from engaging with people or attending social events. He was also keenly aware of current events, although his interpretation of them was decidedly different from that of popular culture. For instance, he saw the fall of the towers not solely as a punishment to those they fell on, but as a warning that no-one is immune to bad consequences following bad actions.
As followers of Jesus, our job is to engage with the world in the same way and to the same extent as Jesus. We’re not to be monks or nuns, physically separating ourselves from the world by living in monasteries and convents, but spiritually we should live as monks and nuns. That means following the Ten Commandments to the letter with regards to how we interact with people, treating people as we would want to be treated, and loving our enemies in word and deed.
It is far more challenging to live in the world as a spiritual monk or nun than to live physically separated as a monk or nun. Temptation is all around us, all the time. We turn on a TV news channel and are tempted to become overwhelmed by world events. We walk by a store and are tempted to buy something we don’t need. We see males and females in various stages of undress on the street (i.e., wearing the latest fashions) and are sexually tempted. We see how people who speak the truth are murdered and their families threatened, and we’re tempted to remain silent rather than risk our lives or the lives of our loved ones.
God permits temptations for our spiritual development. They are lessons as well as tests. Most of us, most of the time, don’t do so well on them. But take heart – you’ll do better as you learn to recognize them both as tests and learning opportunities, not as traps or stumbling blocks. And also remember that you will never be tempted beyond your capacity to overcome the temptation WITH GOD’S HELP.
We are now in the testing time. Our job is to show that we want what God has to offer (earthly deprivations leading to heaven) more than the alternative (earthly titillations leading to hell). The way to do our job is to help people who sincerely ask us for help, even it if means we temporarily go without.
Remember the old lady who gave everything she had to live on as a temple offering, even though her offering was only a pittance? Jesus said she gave far more than those who monetarily gave more but kept the lion’s share of their money for themselves. God values the sincerity of the giving, not the amount.
Speaking of sincerity – make sure that those asking you for help are sincere, and likewise make sure that your offer to help them is sincere; otherwise, you’re wasting your time. Panhandlers and professional charities are not examples of people sincerely asking for your help.
Take your time to find out who really needs help, and then help them. Keep in mind that financial help is the last thing most people need, even though they think it is the most important. The best help any of us can give is a kind word of encouragement at the right time to someone who really needs to hear it. We’ll know the right time because God will tell us.
Remember how Jesus first preached the “sermon on the mount”, spiritually feeding his flock before performing the miracle of the loaves and fishes and physically feeding them.
Spiritual food is far more important than physical food.
Spiritual shelter is far more important than physical shelter.
Spiritual health is far more important than physical health.
Jesus lived these truths, and so must we.
But most importantly – don’t preach to people who don’t want to hear it. Preaching at the wrong time is the spiritual equivalent of fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. Note that Jesus, in engaging with the world, only preached to those who came to him, whether along his journeys, at his home in Capernaum, or in the synagogues.
For those who don’t yet have ears to hear, a helping hand is better than a thousand words.
Ultimately, our aim in helping people is to show them how much God loves them and how they can come to know and love God the way Jesus knows and loves him, the way we know and love him. Our reward for carrying out this sincere mission of helping people is peace and joy now, and heaven later.