Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Poor Among Us

It's no secret that God has called us, as His people, to care for one another. He has called us specifically to care for the poor among us, the orphans and the widows, those without as significant a means of provision as we have. And the world looks at this and says that clearly, the answer is socialism - the redistribution of wealth. 

But that would not be what Jesus said.  

Yes, Jesus told us to care for the poor, but He also told us that we will always have the poor among us. Since we know that Jesus only said what He meant, it should jump out at all of us that not once did He tell us that our role in the world was to eradicate poverty. Not once did He tell us that we should make sure that no one is ever poor in any place ever again. 

In fact, what we see is that Jesus (and God, throughout the entirety of His Word) places honor and dignity on the poor. The Bible is full of the stories of the impoverished...and how the wealthy should respond to them. 

The Old Testament tells us that we should not keep a neighbor's garment as security for a loan overnight. Anyone who needs a loan is poorer than his life demands, so we know this is commentary on poverty. If we keep his coat, that might be the only thing that he has to keep warm overnight; thus, we should return it before the sun sets so that he can protect himself from the elements. Notice that God does not say, "Give the man whatever will satisfy his needs so that he never has to offer his coat again." 

The Old Testament also tells us that we should leave the edges of our fields unharvested and that we should not go back and pick up the ripened crop that we have dropped. Why? So that the poor can come and have the dignity of gathering their own food, even if they do not have the means of land to grow it. Notice that God does not say that we should give the poor a portion of our land to use for themselves. No, that's not the point. 

In the Gospels, we have two striking examples of generosity in poverty on display - the widow's two mites and the woman of ill-repute's perfume. The widow, Jesus tells us, gave more than anyone else, despite having less to start with. And the woman of ill-repute was more gracious in receiving Him than the richer man who owned the home into which she so boldly walked. Notice that Jesus does not say that the church should give the widow the entire contents of the offering box or that someone should replace the woman's perfume. 

For Jesus, for God, this world has never been about its financial economy. Not once does He tell us that we are to eliminate poverty. 

That sounds harsh. It sounds particularly harsh in a world so bent toward something it calls "equality." And we could talk about that for a minute, but let's not run down that rabbit hole. Let's just say that it is distasteful to our world that we, as Christians, would have an ethic that doesn't eliminate poverty at its very core, that isn't called to "fix" this "injustice." But poverty is the world's injustice, not God's. 

God has always seen poverty as an opportunity. 

It's an opportunity for us to demonstrate that God is sovereign, no matter our circumstances. It's an opportunity for us to say that God alone satisfies our souls. Paul says that he has learned to live with a lot and with a little, and this is the kind of call that God places on our lives - to look beyond our means and our measures and discover the richness of His mercy and love. The poor among us are not only praised, but held up as a testimony, when they get this right (as with the widow and the woman of ill-repute). And the rich among us? The rich among us are testified against, that we might do better with what God has given us. That we might remember that we are not the only ones on His planet. Poverty teaches us something essential about God and faith that we simply could not learn without it, no matter what angle we experience it from.  

That's why God isn't interested in eliminating poverty. But there is more even than this, and we'll start breaking that down tomorrow. 

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