The pastor and the poor person

Once upon a time there was a very poor person who lived in the city’s streets. He was down on his luck and had the dice stacked against him all his life. He was in need of empathy and neighborly love.

He would beg for money and although he could scrape enough pocket change to keep his body and soul together, it seemed that those who were more fortunate than he were not really deeply concerned with his wretched predicament.

Then one day the pastor of a neighborhood church found the suffering man sitting on the curb. The pastor held out his hand to the poor man and said, “Let me help you get back on your feet, my brother.”

The poor man was in a desperate position and agreed to go back to the church with the caring pastor. At the church he was able to get a warm shower and, thanks to the generosity of the congregation, the pastor was able to give him new clothes.

The pastor was well connected to the various helpful services offered in the community and was able to get the man some medical attention and a shelter to live in. The pastor even provided the man with a paid job to do maintenance work in the church building and some outside landscaping chores.

The poor man was not living like a king, but at least he no longer had to give thought to the cares of the world and of the physical body. Then one day he walked into the pastor’s rectory to give his thanks. “You have removed the hard suffering from my life. In fact, you have saved my life.”

The pastor looked at the man with caring eyes and said, “No, I have not yet begun the real process of saving your life. Because in order to do that I must expose you to suffering hard things all over again.”

“But you are supposed to offer me comfort and protection,” replied the stunned man. “I don’t want to go back out into that miserable world again.”

“In order to truly save you I must introduce you to a whole other world, the world of the spirit,” explained the pastor. “You must learn new things about yourself and the spiritual world that you will, no doubt, find most challenging and even discomforting. In fact, you must die to be saved.”

“What are you saying?” said the poor man in disbelief. “First you save me, now you want me to suffer and die! First you build my self-esteem and next you challenge it!”

“You have to be reborn in spirit,” said the pastor in a most serious tone. “For that to happen, old beliefs and behaviors have to die. You will begin to suffer in a new way when your old compulsions burst forth to rebel against the spiritual lessons I will be giving you. I took you out of one hell so that you could face another.”

“But I am a good person,” snapped the poor man.

“Your goodness comes from the Lord, not from you,” returned the minister.

“I find that statement condescending!” said the poor man, “Heck, I am going to find another church—one that will always comfort me, tell me I am a good person and how much I am loved by God. I am going to find a church that guarantees heaven and wonderful mansions for all people, where angels will minister to all our needs and ensure our eternal happiness.”

As the poor man left the rectory in a huff, the minister—who was Swedenborgian—found himself in a dilemma. How do you save people when they have little knowledge of the extent of the poorness of their own inner spirit? How will he help God increase the population of heaven with a generation of citizens who feel eternal happiness is a divine promise and a sacred entitlement program?

Hugs, smiles and words of encouragement only go so far and don’t get at the core of the problems in the world. The minister shrugged his shoulders and got up from his seat. The world was full of many more needy victims that could at least physically benefit from his pastoral care. Maybe one of them would rise to God’s challenge.

About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at
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7 Responses to The pastor and the poor person

  1. Kate says:

    Perhaps one of your best yet! Couldn’t agree more! I’ve been struggling with this lately….in a very different way at work-and quite frankly about every where I turn! Humanity is asleep! Just WHAT is it going to take this time to wake up the collective consciousness?

  2. thegodguy says:

    Dear Kate,

    It is going to take some form of “Spiritual shock therapy” to snap humankind out of their cognitive snoozing. The Lord came into the world to de-hypnotize us not just hug and cuddle us. People want ministers to cuddle them – not give them a swift kick in the rear end!

    I for one take many of Swedenborg’s unflattering statements about humanity to heart. But people have too many false expectations when they consider that God is infinite love. Big topic!

    Spiritually yours,

  3. Roger says:

    Dear Edward,

    While I agree with the diagnosis of humanity’s sorry state, I do not agree with the prognosis! God is Love, God is Power, God is Intelligence, God can make it happen if we are inclined, however so slightly!

    I distinguish between the radically evil and ordinary spiritually asleep humans. There are communities in the lower heavens where the latter would end up per ES. These might endure occasional ‘vastation’ even in the lower heavens while they wake up to their own shortcomings. In other words, growth is not confined to the physical plane but continues in the world of spirits AND in the heavens. However, in all religious traditions that acknowledge the possibility of post-mortem learning and cleaning (including Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism), it is rightly asserted that it is easier and faster to learn and grow when one is in a frail, mortal body in an entropic field (as we are now, subject to decay and impermanence).

    We need to distinguish between salvation and sanctification/growth. All people, except those who will radically reject the Lord and all good, are (by default) saved (i.e. they are heaven bound) – even if they end up in the lower heavens where they have millennia of remedial learning.


  4. Sue says:

    How come the minister gets to be the good guy in this? He’s a know-it-all. Maybe the whole lesson from the Lord is that the minister needs to be re-born in spirit. He’s practically trying to purchase the admiration of this poor man. He needs a lesson in humility – he’s not ‘saving’ people. No matter how nice and enlightened he may be.

    Sorry! Just had to add a contrary view here. You write really nice posts, and I am always drawn to tear them apart.

  5. thegodguy says:

    Dear Roger,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. However, those who are spiritually asleep have no opportunity to recognize and challenge their inner flaws. According to Swedenborg, these flaws and negative compulsions do not emerge until one is exposed to more interior doctrinal data (truths). This process leads to temptations which are the only lawful means by which God’s good and truth can be confirmed and unified within one’s spirit.

    There is a growing trend among those who read Swedenborg that people ought to be coddled and told that heaven is a “sure thing.” Hugging people tends to stifle their need for sincere self-reflection and certainly never serves as a catalyst for temptation.

    Spiritually yours,

  6. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    I totally accept your right to reject Swedenborg’s theology. But how did you miss the point that the poor man walked out on the minister and was uninterested in examining his “poorness” on a deeper level?

    The angels of heaven tremble from the thought that they can do anything good without the Lord. Yet, terrestrial men and women dare to pat each other on the back for their accomplishments. The poor man was unwilling to concede that all good was from God. How does this make the minister a smarty pants?

    I hope to continue to give you material to rip apart in future blogs. It is good for my own spiritual growth!

    Spiritually yours,

  7. Y. W. says:

    Dear GodGuy, (and Roger and Sue)…

    This is definitely another one of those multi-layered topics that we could slice and dice into theological fine points all day long. I can’t personally talk that talk, but I think it’s really good that we all do think about this on many levels. Thanks for serving it up for us, GodGuy!

    There is a lot to be said for churches doing the “ministry” of helping those with critical worldly needs. Hopefully those on the receiving end of this charity will feel the kindness and good intentions of their helpers and realize that they, too, have value (and personal spiritual responsibility) as human beings.

    And hopefully those who are offering the help are doing so out of true charity, without the desire to dominate those they reach out to help. There are plenty of opportunities for soul-searching on both sides!

    I would simply hope that any church organization and its people do some deep consideration into “why” they want to help others when they set up such a program. I had better be for unselfish reasons. From the way GodGuy wrote the story, I think this particular church and its minister probably did have some kind of a plan. Our own intentions play a key role in whatever true charity comes from such an act of giving and comforting. (The Pastor helped the guy get fully back on his feet before he even attempted to share any kind of “spiritual food” with him. And he left the poor person in freedom to accept or reject it.)

    Roger said:
    “God is Love, God is Power, God is Intelligence, God can make it happen if we are inclined, however so slightly!”

    I respond:
    Those who follow “A Course in Miracles” talk a lot about Willingness. It definitely takes a “willingness” to receive deeper truths that must be present in the one being “helped” with desperate worldly needs before he is open to receiving any kind of “spiritual lifeline” from anyone. One might not be “willing” on the day the initial outreach is made, but perhaps this little willingness will grow in the recipient later on. Once this willingness is present, a true spiritual connection can be formed and real transformation can begin. It takes patience and true selflessness on the part of the one reaching out to be truly helpful.

    Sue said:
    “How come the minister gets to be the good guy in this? He’s a know-it-all.”

    I respond:
    I think the minister is not so much a know-it-all as he is a wise minister, who understands that help has to be offered one step at a time. And knowing when it’s “the right time” to take that next step with someone is tricky at best. One can only hope that the pastor’s act of spiritual sharing was appreciated by the poor person on some level, so that some seeds of deeper understanding were sown, even though they initially met with nothing but resistance. Might take them awhile to come to fruition, but eventually, they might just take hold and flourish. You never know. The guy might come back to the church in a few weeks to talk with the pastor, or it might cause him to seek deeper knowledge elsewhere that resonates with him a little more and helps him become a better person spiritually. Who knows… And again, he might just not have been “ready and willing” yet. It takes two to form a connection, whether it’s a pastor and a poor person or a poor person with God. We can only hope that each of us knows and understands when we are actually receiving some great “gift” or insight from another. And that we’re willing to be open to improving ourselves and incorporating it into our lives.

    Thanks to all of you… you’ve each given me the gift today of making me stop and think a little deeper about my own intentions and willingness!

    And thanks to you, GodGuy for stirring important things up again within us! ☺

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