I recently received a genuine facsimile of a linen handkerchief. Its proportions match the 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper found in my printer. Three or four sheets of instructions accompanied this “handkerchief.” I read them. I learned that it was a prayer handkerchief. Great blessing was guaranteed. In order to pluck this good fruit from God’s Bounty, I was to write wishes on the handkerchief, tuck this slip of paper into my Bible and sleep with my Bible under my bed. The remaining instructions told me to fold the handkerchief and place it in an envelope addressed to St. Matthew’s Church…Tulsa, Oklahoma. And finally, sit back and wait for the shower of prosperity, healing, and relationship mending to begin.
I did not write out my prayer requests. I whispered them in the dark to the One who hears for He is compassionate. I did not place the Bible under my bed. I fell asleep reading its promises and woke up the next morning with it open beside me. I did not slip the handkerchief into the envelope. I did not even write a letter of complaint and mail that instead for I noticed a strange bar code at the bottom of the envelope. I became suspicious that I might be placed on St. Matthews Churches, Inc.’s eternal mailing list.
I did search for St. Matthews on the Internet and found out that the mastermind behind this mailing is James Eugene Ewing. A man with a not quite eighth grade education and a talent for stringing together words that tug at heartstrings. A man with a talent for separating coins from those who can little afford to give them. I learned that I was specially chosen to receive this letter. Or rather, the area where I live is ripe for the fleecing. St. Matthews targets the poor, the uneducated, and the elderly.
I am not poor, uneducated or elderly. This letter was never intended to reach my hands. I am glad it did. It opened my eyes. It made me angry. Mr. Ewing is taking advantage of the people that I stand behind at Dollar General...like the woman I saw yesterday who put back the bottle of cough syrup in favor of Raman Noodles. Four dollars can only stretch so far and there is still another week until pay day. I once watched a woman who filled her cart with groceries at the local "Scratch and Dent" for a mere seven dollars. I walked out ashamed that I had spent thirteen on only two bags. James Eugene Ewing is a man who has tasted poverty and now feeds off of people who are as he was. (Though I doubt he has received a dime from Mrs. Seven Dollars.)
I wonder how people who hang two dollar jeans back on the rack at the thrift store and declare them too expensive can be seduced into handing over a few dollars to St. Matthews and other Prosperity Gospel bank accounts. Sometimes I see that there are those who don’t think for themselves. The conversations at the thrift store clue me in.
A woman walks in and squeezes between the racks. She does not look at any of the merchandise but makes her way straight to the counter.
“Hey Annie, Got anything you think I might like?”
“How ‘bout this pair of red boots?”
“Thanks Annie.” And the customer is out the door, red boots slung over her shoulder.
I separate and evaluate the clothing on the racks and wonder, “You didn’t even try them on. How do you know they will fit? Do you need boots? Do you like red?”
There are those who approach God’s Word the same way. They are willing to believe that riches will fall from the sky if they follow a superstitious hocus pocus procedure because they don’t know what God says. Sometimes I get e-mails that say “Forward this to everyone you know and you will be blessed.” I read in the Personals section of the newspaper, “Thanks St. Jude for an answer to prayer.” I think, “Get out your bibles, people. It doesn't mention e-mails or St. Jude dispensing blessings on a single page!”
There are those who don’t approach God at all. They look in disgust at the stealing, manipulating and lying that goes on in the name of the Lord. They don’t look beyond this obstruction to the One who formed them, who knows their name, who wants to be their friend. The One who loves them. The One who was so angry over this same type of fleecing that He dumped tables and drove overpriced goods from the temple, twice. I think," Tear your eyes from the ugly and see the Truth.
I wonder if some of the money that belonged to the "woman who hemorrhaged for twelve years and spent all she had" went into the pockets of a swindler who preyed upon her desperation. But, in the end, she saw that Christ was the only one who could deliver her. She screwed together her courage and reached out and touched him and that was all it took.
That is all it took for me, too. I put my life in Christ’s hands. I put the handkerchief in the garbage.