"And now abideth faith, hope, charity..." 1 Corinthians 13.13
According to the CARE Prayer Diary, The Centre for Social Justice has identified 5 Pathways to Poverty: family breakdown, educational failure, lack of income, addiction, serious personal debt. These problems are inter-connected so, if even an individual is struggling with just one of them today, they could soon become ensnared in all of them. How to break that cycle? No easy answers! But awareness by all concerned - victims, neighbours, society as a whole is a useful start.
Community life needs to be sufficiently intimate and open to ensure that nobody falls through the cracks. We may not be able to employ somebody or prevent their addiction to alcohol. But taking an interest in those around us, giving each other the respect we deserve as fellow human beings, means that everybody becomes somebody. We need a vision for a society in which nobody is left behind.
The mark of civilisation is how well the most vulnerable are treated. By that measure our world is going backwards. It is true that we have probably never had as many charities working hard for the relief of poverty, suffering and injustice. But the fact that the wealth gap is widening undermines all of that because it is making charity ever more remote. I am choosing my words deliberately. As the Authorised Version of the Bible's rendering of St Paul's famous dictum reminds us, the original word equating to the Greek for "love" is "charity". That connection between love and care is increasingly lost on a generation which regards "charity" simply as well-meaning hand-outs, rather than our expression of love for one another.
I do not wish to undermine anyone's commitment to a large national or international charity. But the merit of local expressions of charity is that they add that personal touch, which transforms the interaction from dependence (of one upon another) to relationship (between people). The former keeps the problem at arms length, the latter humanises it. That was surely the first step that God took to redeem the world: coming in the person of his son - to take up our infirmities and to heal our suffering?