China’s More “Christian” Approach to Homelessness Than “America’s”

Readings for 5th Sunday of Easter: ACTS 6: 1-7; PS 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19; I PT 2: 4-9; JN 14: 1-12.

This will be a quick “homily” this week — largely to share with you the difference between China and the United States in terms of housing and feeding the hungry.

The point is to show that China’s system is superior to that of the United States relative to concerns of Jesus and the early church as described in today’s readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. (That’s why I embedded the above video about lack of homelessness in China.) In fact, care of the poor, hungry, and homeless has been a recurring theme in our Sunday liturgies of the word since Easter.

Previously we saw that the early Christians practiced a kind of “communism with Christian characteristics.” Remember that? I mean, we’re told that the Christians eliminated poverty in their communities by sharing their goods and property “from each according to their ability to each according to their need” (ACTS 2: 44-45 and 4: 32-35).

China, we saw, is doing something similar and as a result (unlike capitalist economies) it’s succeeded in eliminating extreme poverty for more than 700 million people. That’s unprecedented – and dare I say it, very Christian.

Today’s readings emphasize once again the importance Jesus’ early followers gave to feeding the hungry — specifically, the children of single moms. But the selections also emphasize the Christian ideal of providing decent (and even luxurious) homes for everyone. According to today’s pericope from the Gospel of John, everyone deserves a mansion.

Such provision, the readings tell us, is based on the direct example of Jesus, who, we’re reminded, is the very image of God. Or as John the Evangelist has Jesus say, “I and the Father are one. Whoever has seen me has seen the father.”

Traditionally, those words have been taken to mean simply that “Jesus is God.”

But I’d venture to say that that’s not the most accurate way of putting it. I mean, more penetrating reflection shows that it seems more consonant with Jesus’ words not to say that “Jesus is God,” but rather that “God is Jesus.”

What’s the difference?

Well, it goes like this. . .. Saying that Jesus is God presumes that we all know who God is. However, we don’t.

Oh, we can speculate. And theologians and philosophers throughout the world have done so interminably. Think of the Greeks and their descriptions of God as a Supreme Being who is all-knowing, omnipotent, and perfect. Such thinking applied to Jesus leads to a concept of him that is totally abstract and removed from life as we live it from day to day. The God in question is well removed from the problems of hunger and homelessness addressed in today’s readings.

Those selections do not say that Jesus is God, but that God is Jesus. It’s not that in thinking about God one understands Jesus. It is that in seeing Jesus, one understands God. Jesus says, “He who sees me, sees the Father.”

To repeat: the distinction is important because it literally brings us (and God) down to earth. It means that Jesus embodies God – inserts God into a human physique that we all can see and touch and be touched by.

If we take that revelation seriously, our gaze is directed away from “heaven,” away from churches, synagogues, and mosques. Our focus instead becomes a God found on the street where Jesus lived among the imperialized, and the despised – the decidedly imperfect. In Jesus, we find God revealed in the offspring of an unwed teenage mother, among the homeless and immigrants (as Jesus was in Egypt), among Jesus’ friends, the prostitutes, and untouchables, and on death row with the tortured and victims of capital punishment. That’s the God revealed in the person of Jesus. He is poor and despised, an opponent of organized religion and imperial authority.

Following the way and truth of that Jesus leads to the fullness of life.

Take, for instance, today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It shows us a faith community focused on providing food for those single moms and their children. The first Christians worship a God who (as today’s responsorial puts it) is merciful before all else. That God, like Jesus, is trustworthy, kind, and committed to justice.

So, we sang our response, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.” In doing so, our thoughts should have been directed towards the corporal works of mercy which the church has hallowed through the ages. Do you remember them?  Feed the hungry, they tell us; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; visit the sick and imprisoned, bury the dead, and shelter the homeless.

In fact, providing shelter – homes for the homeless – was so central for early Christians that it became a fundamental metaphor for the human relationship to God. So, today’s reading from First Peter describes the early community as a single house whose cornerstone is Jesus himself.

Then in today’s gospel, John refers to Jesus’ Father as the one who provides a vast dwelling with many luxurious apartments. You can imagine how such images spoke to impoverished early Christians who would have been out on the street without the sharing of homes that was so important to early church life.

So don’t be fooled by the upside-down version of Christianity that somehow identifies our land with its homelessness, hunger, and widespread poverty as somehow Godlier that China, where extreme poverty and homelessness have been eliminated.

Rather, remember that God is Jesus. God is the one reflected in the lives and needs of the poor, the ill, and despised. With Jesus, the emphasis is on this world – on eating together, feeding the hungry,
sheltering the homeless, on elimination of poverty, and sharing all things in common. That was Jesus authentic Way – the one followed so faithfully by the early church focused on God’s mercy and the merciful acts it inspires. It should be our Way as well.

So, look at the video above with the example of Jesus and the early church in mind. Notice the contrast (in the video itself) between China’s approach to poverty and homelessness and the laissez faire (i.e., unchristian) approach we have in this country.

Then reflect on the need for (Christian) revolution here in the United States. China shows it’s possible.