Did you know that Jesus spoke more about the poor and needy than He did about hell or sex? Do you know that Jesus never once said a word about homosexuality (for more on this I refer you to Derek Flood’s engaging article)?
Why then do I constantly encounter both in the Church and from ‘theologians’ more talk about hell and homosexuality than I do about social justice for the poor and oppressed? Jesus spoke more about the poor than He did about hell; and we have absolutely no record in the Gospels of Jesus saying one word about homosexuality. In truth, less than 10 verses out of over one million verses in the Bible refer to same-sex behavior in any way and not one of them refer to homosexual orientation as it is understood today. But I digress, this writing is not about homosexuality and what the Scriptures say or do not say about it or as to how I feel about it. Rather, this space is reserved for writing about God and the poor.
There are over 400 verses that specifically refer to God’s concern for the poor and God’s call for us to serve, care for and protect the poor. Yet, aside from the Religious Left, I hear very little about caring for the poor – something that was of prime concern to Jesus the Messiah. With recent events [note: this was originally written after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and since revised], I am compelled to write about a subject that, according to the Scriptures, is of prime concern to God’s heart.
The earthquake in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, makes me think of the words of Jesus: “Whatsoever you have done for the least of these, you have done it to Me (See St. Matthew 25). My friends, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, the only difference between the “Sheep” and the “Goats” was what they did and did not do for the poor!
And let us consider the reality that many Americans are suffering untold pain, stress, and tragedy, makes this topic even more timely. Facts that include:
- 1 in 5 Americans are Underemployed;
- 1 in 6 Americans have no health insurance;
- 1 in 6 Americans is battling hunger;
- 1 in 7 Americans are receiving food stamps;
- In 2010, 22 percent of children under the age of 18 were in poverty;
- In 2010, 15.1 percent of all Americans were in poverty.
These are not mere statistics, far from it, for these “numbers” represent millions of people: Families, Veterans, Children, Single Mothers, hard working Men and Women.
The numbers are numbing.
I once attended a “mega church” outside of Philadelphia in the 1980s and they had a million dollar campaign to raise money for a bigger parking lot. I used to question some of the pastors asking them how could they justify such a thing when less than 10 miles away 25% of the children of Philadelphia were living in poverty? I received many answers about accommodating the “needs” of the congregation. Since when did a parking lot become a Biblical issue? Not one answer was satisfactory for me.
Why do we people of faith spend so much time and energy on the things of this world when we are told to only be in the world but not of it? How can we ignore the call of God to serve and aid the poor and needy when it is one of THE most written about topics in the Scriptures? Why does it take a catastrophe to inspire compassion in followers of Jesus?
Why does compassion seem like the ‘last resort’ rather than the first one? When are we going to make serving the poor and needy an integrated part of our lives, as faith calls us to do? Charity was never meant to be an afterthought…it was mean to be a primacy. We sometimes use compassion like an eraser on a pencil: to take away our mistakes and the accompanying guilt.
Compassion is a lifestyle. Jesus said “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” Notice Jesus did not say do compassion; He said be compassionate. How can we ever expect to feed people’s souls when their bodies are hungry, homeless and hurting? Too many ‘Christians’ (and all people of faith) I know are so “heavenly minded” that they are no “earthly good.”
It’s not about being smugly self-righteous or liberal or conservative or about loathing wealth (trust me; I don’t like living economically poor). It is about our neighbor. And as to the question of just who is my neighbor, Jesus stretches us to think beyond just the person living next to us, by leading us to understand that the answer to just “who is my neighbor” is anyone in need, whether or not they are actually my ‘physical’ neighbor. By calling everyone in need our neighbor, we are being called to meet them, as humans, right where they are as they are.
For that is how God meets us: as we are and where we are.
In becoming more connected to those in need, we will see the suffering face of God and learn that poverty is an affront to both God and humanity. It does not take much: a cup of water to a thirsty soul, volunteering at a soup kitchen, a shelter, a home for abused women, visiting the elderly, praying and visiting those in prison (for no one, NO ONE, stands outside of God’s Grace). Maybe make soup and sandwiches on your own (make sure to package with soup in a cup, spoon, napkin and placed in a brown paper bag) and just go walk around your city or community and personally hand them out. See how that changes your view and perspective…and always, always when encountering men and women who are homeless: ask them their names. For it will humanize both of you – for invisibility is one of the greatest sufferings of being poor and homeless, but knowing someone’s name makes them (and you) Human again.
Charity is meant to be “personal” – not from a distance but up close, personal, and (sometimes) uncomfortable.
Jesus felt compassion for the poor and needy. Jesus lived with and among them as friends and disciples. And we who say we follow Jesus can do no less than our Master can we? And if it sounds like I’m saying that God has a preferential option for the poor, I am. But God’s preferential option for the poor is not because the poor are better, it is precisely because they are more vulnerable.
God loves all equally, no doubt, but because not all humans are treated equally, God intervenes on their behalf and does so precisely in and through us. We are called to be God’s love made visible! We are to be God’s hands, God’s feet, and God’s heart. We are called to incarnate God’s love…and we have a most excellent example – Jesus the Messiah.
I’ll stop for I can ‘hear’ my own smug, self-righteousness rising to the surface. So, what better Words to end on than from the One I adore and seek to follow (from St. Matthew 11: 1 – 6):
“When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent [a message] by his disciples and asked [Jesus], “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the Good News. And if anyone is not offended because of Me, that person is Blessed.”
Here are just a few Scriptures for reference: Leviticus 19:9-10, 15; Proverbs 14:31, 19:18, 28:3, 6, 21:21; Zechariah 8:10; Job 5:15-16; Micah 6:8; Amos; Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 15:7, 10-1, 24:17-18; Psalm 10:14; 12:5; 34:7; 35:10; 41:1-2; 72:12-14; 82:3-4; 107:9; 141; 146:7; Proverbs 29:7; Isaiah 3:5; 58; 61:1-2; Matthew 5:42, Chapter 25; Luke 1:53; 3:11; 4:18-19; 6:20-21, 24-25; 2 Cor. 8:9; Galatians 2:10; James 2:5-6; 1 John 3:17-18.
Here are some links as well:
- Jesus Manifesto
- The Bible on the Poor
- The Huffington Post article
- 2010 U.S. Census Bureau Report on Poverty in America
- Feeding America: Facts on Hunger
- Project TURN
- Directory of Prison Ministries (by Denomination)
- Mercy Corps
- World Vision
- 58 (The End of Poverty)