Monday, December 1, 2014

Miracle of the Poor

There's an interesting list in Luke 7, in a story where John's disciples come to Jesus to ask whether He is the Messiah. Jesus answers by telling them what He is doing among the people, leaving the question for them to answer. And He lists a series of what we would call miracles, but have you ever paid attention to this list?

Jesus answered John's disciples, 'Go back, and tell John what you have seen and heard: Blind people see again, lame people are walking, those with skin diseases are made clean, deaf people hear again, dead people are brought back to life, and poor people hear the Good News.' (22)

One of these things, on the surface, is not like the others. There is no earthly reason for a blind man to see, for a lame man to walk, for a leper to be clean, for a deaf man to hear, for a dead man to live. These things are contrary to the law of nature; they are miracles. But the poor? In a list of the miraculous, Jesus includes that the poor are hearing the Good News. 

I have to be honest: I never would have considered poverty the petri dish for a miracle.

Which is not to say that I don't think God does some incredible things through poverty; I'm living proof that He does. I'm one of those people who lives my life on "just enough" and "barely that," and yet, I find myself primarily without need. God continues to show up and provide when it doesn't seem there is a way for such provision to be possible. God works in poverty to demonstrate His abundance. And if that were the gist of this passage, I think I could almost just nod along and agree with this list of miracles.

But that's not what Jesus is pointing to here. Jesus does not say, The poor are made rich. He does not say, Those with little live in abundance. No. What Jesus says is, the poor are hearing the Good News.

So we need to take some time to figure out what He really means by this, why the poor are counted among the blind, the lame, the deaf. The dead. We start at the logical beginning, by understanding what the miracle implies that the poor could not do. The blind could not see. The deaf could not hear. The lame could not walk. So the poor...could not hear the Good News. Why not?

I fear it is a matter of access and academics.

The poor had a harder time making their way into the temples or synagogues. For a couple of reasons. First, they were poor - they had to spend their days in pursuit of provision. They had to spend their days working as hard as they could to make as little as they had, or begging for what little they had. They didn't have a lot of time for the temple, even if they understood how important it is.

And those that had the time did not have the means. There were a lot of laws about sacrifices and ritual purity in those times, and coming to the temple required a sacrifice. It required a gift. If you don't have the money to put porridge on your stove, how do you find the change to buy a couple of pigeons for God? If you can afford the pigeons as a poor man (and remember - birds were the poor man's sacrifice), you're more likely to eat them. Those are just the facts. That's what poverty does to a man. So his lack of resources keeps him at a distance. He cannot afford to go to the temple. He cannot afford to hear the Scriptures. He cannot afford to take part in the feasts and the festivals. Because of his poverty, the doors are closed to him. 

Beyond that, there was a certain expectation that a good Jewish boy would enter a program of study in the Scriptures, through the temple. He would attend classes and learn the writings. He would memorize and rehearse the words of the prophets. He would learn to read them aloud, to interpret them, to make sense of the story of God. Here again is a luxury that a poor Jewish boy, despite how good he might be, would not have. In poverty, he would need to work. He would need to labor. He might even be sold as a slave until the Jubilee. He has no access to the academy; he doesn't get to learn the Scriptures with the other boys. His life has an entirely different expectation - one that centers around basic needs, not basic Hebrew. 

It's therefore quite accurate to say that the poor could not hear the Good News. There simply wasn't a way.

Which is why it is listed among the miracles that they do. It's a miracle because it's outside the law of nature. It's outside of the way things generally function. Jesus created a way for the poor to come to Him without sacrifice, without offering...without cost. Jesus created a way for them to listen and to learn the story of God. Jesus created a way for the poor man to stand among the blind and receive the same improbable story, the Good News that what was once impossible is no longer. What was once unlikely has become real. What was once meant for everybody else is now meant for everybody. Period. 

Those for whom there is no earthly possibility to see are seeing. Those for whom there is no earthly possibility to walk are walking. Those for whom there is no earthly possibility to hear are hearing. And those for whom there is no earthly possibility to know are knowing. They are knowing the Good News of Christ. 

And that is miraculous.

More on what this means for us tomorrow.

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