Dignify and Deploy 21: Kingdom of the Poor
‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.’ (2 Cor 8:9)
Karol Wojtyla and John Wimber cast themselves down as to join Christ Crucified in His upward rising. In turn, both made many rich.
Though lush in friendships and creativity, priest Wojtyla lived poor. ‘He never had a bank account, never wrote a check, never had any personal money. He slept on the floor…possessions meant nothing to him…He always wore an old cassock. Looking at him, you might think he was a beggar.’ (Witness of Hope, p. 119)
Later as pope, he was inclined to friendship with an Albanian nun, Teresa of Calcutta. Theirs was a quiet bond, not too many words except to savor the missionary advances her ‘little sisters of the poor’ were making in new countries. For Wojtyla, Teresa embodied his life theme—the ‘Law of the Gift’—that humanity achieves pure happiness in dignifying others by giving them what they need. For the poorest of the poor, those most subject to debasement, that gift is Jesus’ Presence in persons like Teresa who tend to their basic needs.
On numerous occasions, I heard Wimber invoke Teresa as embodying ‘the greater works of Jesus.’ How did he get there? Unlike Wojtyla, Wimber grew up poor. He became poor for the Gospel when he died to a lucrative music career. But Jesus first converted John into making care for the poor a priority when he heard a black Pentecostal preacher repenting to his flock under the power of the Spirit.
God convicted the preacher of how he and church had forgotten their poor roots and now paraded as rich folks in fine clothes and cars. Holy Spirit fell on them; they grieved in unison, swaying together and remembering their rough starts. Jesus reduced them to who He loved, the poor.
John called Carol that night during a long night of tearful repentance. He vowed to Carol that any church over which he had influence would make care for the poor a priority. He never turned back from that commitment. Under his leadership, the Vineyard Anaheim rallied her members and money to staff the largest outreach for the needy of any one church in Orange County.
John’s last project was raising money for this outreach. Evidently at the end of his life, “his voice almost non-existent, his eyes fading and gray-looking in weakness, he talked to his people like he had a thousand times before about how important it was for the Vineyard to keep our covenant with the poor… ‘Down through the years, you’ve blessed me with your generosity time after time. Make me proud of you again.’”
These were John’s last words to the church. He kept his pledge to the poor.
‘Forgive us for forgetting where we started. Free us from self-concern; free us for those most in need. May the witnesses of Teresa and Wojtyla and Wimber convict us of what matters to You, O God.
Come Holy Spirit, liberate what is true and beautiful from what debases us. May we not settle but aspire to the dignity of our sexual humanity. May we grow into ‘mature expressions of the gift’ by helping others do the same. Deployed to dignify, we ‘harness the John force.’”