My freshman year in college I lived in a humongous dorm on the campus of the University of Texas. Like most dorms the people on my hall were a random assortment of dudes from all over Texas with a variety of backgrounds and belief systems. Many of us got along great and developed bonds that would last for many years. However, in any situation where random people are put together in a long term living situation there will be some people who don't quite fit in with everyone else. Most times these folks are just a little awkward or "different" and we had some of that on our hall. When reading Proverbs 17 this week I was reminded of a particular guy on our hall who wasn't awkward or terribly weird, but he definitely didn't fit in well with the rest of us. I thought of him (I don't remember his name) after reading this verse:
Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.
The reason I thought of him was because of the following horrible story that caused this guy to become an outcast on our hall. There are quite a few homeless people in Austin, and at the time many of them lingered around the University of Texas. According to witnesses; this soon to be vilified hall mate saw a homeless man lying on the ground. He proceeded to approach the man and then offered him a candy bar asking "Would you like this?" When the man responded and reached out for the candy bar he laughed at him and then ate the candy bar himself taunting the man who was clearly not in a good place and most likely very hungry. When we heard about this on our hall, even the most callous person wanted to fight our hall mate. It was truly disgusting behavior.
It seems that everyone, regardless of their awareness of scripture, agrees this is horrible behavior. Let's take it to the next level though, how often do we gloat over someone else's disaster? Maybe not in your community, but I think our culture has created an environment where we do gloat over the disaster of people who are more well known than we are. It seems the country, the press, and twitter users are anxiously waiting for some celebrity to fall from grace, make a mistake, go through a divorce, or have a mental breakdown. Our willingness to pile on these people is equally disgusting. While it is specifically wrong to mock the poor, it's also a real problem if we seek to make ourselves feel better by relishing the bad fortune of someone who is rich or famous or powerful or all three. Let's stop participating in the cultural pile on and instead remember that while "famous" people may look like their life is some kind of pleasant fantasy, the reality is they have at least as many problems as the rest of us and probably more. Maybe we should take some time to pray for them from a distance instead of mocking them from a distance.