reciprocity in the missional context

The subject matter of the books currently findng their way into my reading rejume involve the more social elements of the gospel. In particular, how to serve the poor and disenfranchised without devaluing their humanity. This may very well be at the core of what it is serve in a missional context.

The three books currently front and center are: Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line by Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor by Robert D. Lupton, and No More Throw-Away People: The Co-Production Imperative by Edgar S. Cahn.  One commonality is that each flows out of the missional heart of it’s author.  Two books mention the term reciprocity and the third strong hints at it.

Reciprocity is defined as the “practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, esp. privileges granted by one entity (person, country, organization) to another.”

In the context of serving others, one way for mutual benefit to occur would be an awareness and practice of regarding the one served as equal to the one serving. That the one serving enters the relationship from a place of humility rather than one of power — often this does not occur.  An example of this type of relationship is illustrated by Robert Lupton:

I came to the city to serve those in need.  I have been given resources and abilities to clothe the ill-clad, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless–good works that our Lord requires of us.  There is a blessedness in this kind of giving, to be sure. But there is also a power in it — which can be dangerous.  Giving allows me to retain control.  Retaining the helping position protects me from the humiliation of appearing to need help.  And even more sobering, I condemn those whom I would help to the permanent, prideless role of recipient.

When my motivation is to change people, I inadvertently communicate: Something is wrong with you, but (quite subtly) I am okay.  If our relationship is defined as healer/patient, then I must remain well and they must remain sick in order for our interaction to continue.  Since one does not go to the doctor when he is well, curing, then, cannot long serve as the basis of any relationship that is life-enhancing for both participants.  Little wonder that we, who have come to the city to “save” the poor, find it difficult to enter into true community with those we deem needy.[p.22]

He goes on to state:

It is disquieting to realize how little value I attribute to “the least of these,” the ones deemed by our Lord to be “great in the Kingdom” (Matt. 5:19, NIV)

In the area of authentic reciprocity humility is necessary in order not to regard those we serve only in terms of weak and needing recuing, but bearers of the Imago Dei — as all humanity is. In the missional context of serving, I do well to regard what I give (money, time, resources, etc.) as no more valuable than what I recieve from them, and in some instances less valuable.  Their place of continually living in the realm of vulnerability is a good starting point.


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