Attitudes to the Poor
What is our attitude?
by Janice Ross (revised, originally published in 2011)
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To consider whether some ways of helping people are more acceptable than others.
Preparation and materials
You will need to familiarize yourself with the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10.25–37. This can be retold or read from the Bible. You may wish to ask a student to prepare this reading.
Sometimes, famous people have a knack of saying things that are wise and make us think. Most people have heard of, and have a great respect for, Mother Teresa, who worked in Calcutta for many years. She looked after the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low, often simply giving them dignity in dying.
Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, ‘Today it is fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to talk with them.’
We are going to consider whether we think this to be a fair statement about our society.
Statistics show that the British public are among the most generous givers in the world. When a natural disaster happens somewhere in the world, appeals for aid get immediate responses. A huge percentage of our citizens are involved in some sort of regular voluntary charity work.
But listen to this . . .
It was such a cold day. I was in town to do my shopping. As I approached the bank, I saw a heap lying on the pavement. On drawing closer, I realized that it was a young man, probably homeless by the look of his clothes. There was an empty fish and chip carton lying nearby and a puddle of vomit. Not very pleasant.
I was concerned for this young man because I wondered if he was ill. He might have choked. He seemed unconscious. I crouched down beside him and tried to waken him, asking if he was okay. No response.
‘I wouldn’t bother if I were you,’ said an elderly gentleman, passing by. ‘He’s probably on drugs.’
The next person who went past looked, but then turned her nose up at the mess on the pavement. I could understand her sensitivity to the smell, but not her lack of concern.
Next, a young man passed by and said, ‘He’s been there for an hour or so. Probably sleeping it off.’
As I still couldn’t rouse the young man on the pavement, I found a policeman and said I was concerned. It seemed the best I could do.
The story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible (Luke 10.25–37) is very similar to this typical city street scene.
Ask a student to read the story of the Good Samaritan from the Bible.
In this story, a man was in great need. He had been beaten up. A few people, who might have been expected to know better, passed by. Eventually, someone came along who was willing to get his hands dirty. He cleaned up the man, took him to a safe place and paid for his lodgings. He said he would come back a few days later to check up on the injured man and reimburse the landlord for any extra expense. This is a more costly kind of giving.
At the end of the story, Jesus told his followers, ‘Go and do likewise for your neighbour.’
Time for reflection
There are many people in need in the world. There are many people in this country. Let’s think for a moment about people to whom we personally find it difficult to show care and compassion – they may even be people in this school. People who others turn away from for some reason. People who are still important and have value.
Are we willing, as Mother Teresa said, to talk with the poor?
It takes very little to encourage someone, often just a smile or a kind word.
We thank you for all those in our society who get their hands dirty in caring for the poor.
Thank you for those who work in hostels for the homeless.
Thank you for those who provide soup kitchens to warm up the many who sleep rough in our cities.
Thank you for those who care enough to help clean up the mess of other people’s lives.
Help us to understand the need that all people have to be treated with dignity, care and interest.
Please give us compassionate hearts.
‘Cross over the road’ (Come and Praise, 70)