Contributed by Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA

Warm-up Question

How do you decide whether to help someone?

Doing More Harm Than Good?

Nine months after a devastating earthquake killed over 250,000 people, many Haitians and international experts say that the millions of dollars given in aid has actually caused infrastructure and business shutdowns, and may be hurting the nation more than it has helped.

After the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, food, shelter and medical assistance poured into the already poor country.  American and French doctors came and treated thousands of injuries.  Although many Haitians still live in tents after their shacks and cement brick homes were destroyed, most people now have access to food, clean water and basic medical care.

The unfortunate and unforeseen drawback of all this generosity, however, is that existing hospitals, stores and pharmacies have had to shut down because there is much less demand for their products and services. Some fear that the aid will actually leave the country worse off than it was before.

Nurse Beth Middleton says she has doctors handing her resumes, forced to live in tents despite their education and experience. “The healthcare that was in place before the earthquake was crippled by the relief effort,” she says. “Pharmacies closed because of all the free drugs, and doctors lost all their patients.” The middle class is finding it hard to find jobs, she says, and pay for their housing and their kids’ school fees.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, over 12,000 non-governmental organizations have provided aid. Some of these are doing good work, but it is difficult to tell what many are doing, if anything at all. Furthermore, some say these organizations are not doing very well working together or working with governmental agencies to best help the people of Haiti. Some fear  that many organizations will pull out of Haiti without making sure that the people are able to help themselves.

Dig a little deeper:

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has helped or donated money to the Haiti relief effort? (The ELCA has donated over 4.6 million dollars to Haiti Relief—
  • How does it feel to help someone, whether face-to-face or by giving money?
  • Have you ever seen someone get helped and be worse off afterward?
  • How can we Christians help in ways which leave others better off and ultimately independent?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 7, 2010 (All Saints Sunday)

 Daniel  7:1-3, 15-18

Ephesians 1:11-23

Luke 6:20-31

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

What a hard teaching some of this is for those of us who live in America! You might not feel rich, but the average American is in the top 1% of the world as far as income level. All those “woe to yous” could very well apply to us. That’s something to think about next time we go to the all-you-can-eat buffet, isn’t it?

Jesus isn’t saying that we will be punished for having stuff or that it’s wrong to eat a big meal. It’s when we focus on getting more stuff, or better stuff, while neglecting the really important things in life that Jesus has a problem with us. If our focus is on caring about people, taking care of our responsibilities, helping those who truly can’t help themselves, and loving God, then we will be blessed. And if we focus on material things and ourselves, then we’ve already had our reward. That’s pretty simple.

The last part of this teaching is definitely the hardest. Loving those who love us is hard enough. But loving our enemies? Doing something nice for someone who is going to turn around and stab you in the back is just about the hardest thing Jesus asks us to do. It goes against everything in us! It’s exactly the opposite of what the world does and expects us to do. Are we really supposed to just let people take our stuff and not do anything about it? Who does that?  Almost nobody.

Elsewhere in scripture Jesus makes it clear that Christians are supposed to be different from the rest of the world. (See, for example, Matthew 5:13-16) We’re supposed to go so far beyond the way the rest of the world behaves, that the world will look at us and say, “Maybe they are really about something real and special.” When we are unlike anything else in the world, people sit up and take notice. Some even get drawn in when they realize that they want what we have.

Discussion Questions

  • What part of the gospel reading seems the hardest to you? Which part do you most identify with?
  • Have you ever done something nice for an “enemy” (meaning someone you don’t like, or who doesn’t like you, or who has treated you badly in the past)? What happened, if anything, as a result?
  • As a Christian, what makes you different from other people you know?
  •  Do you think God wants us to help people even if it makes them dependent or if it makes their situation worse? Is it possible that sometimes the best way to help someone is to do nothing so that they learn to help themselves?

Activity Suggestions

One way to truly help people is to provide the resources they need to become independent—to help others help themselves. There are organizations which do this.  For example, Heifer International provides animals to families struggling with poverty. Providing something as simple as a flock of chicks or a goat enables that family to make an income from the eggs, the milk, and later the meat of those animals. Part of the agreement in receiving an animal is to share its offspring with neighbors, “passing on the gift.”

Brainstorm ways your group or class could help someone in your community or elsewhere in the world. There are probably organizations right in your community to which you can donate money or volunteer time—your leader or pastor may be able to help. Even writing letters of encouragement can be a great help to someone in need

Dear God, Thank you for hard teachings. May we have ears to hear them. Help us to be willing to do the hard things, to show love even to our enemies. We pray that others will sense your presence in our lives as we follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Closing Prayer

Dear God, Thank you for hard teachings. May we have ears to hear them. Help us to be willing to do the hard things, to show love even to our enemies. We pray that others will sense your presence in our lives as we follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.