More Thinking About the Poor3
One of my personally favorite parts of last weeks' Sunday worship service (besides youth leading worship and a great sermon!) was the extended Q&A time we had AFTER the sermon. Together we were able to go over a couple great questions via twitter (#HCPreach) and also hear a few questions live from the congregation. It was really cool to see everyone sharing the resources they know of and the ideas they have for caring for the poor, as was the topic Pastor Tom preached from, from James 5:1-6. As a follow-up resource, ya'll should check out the website Free2Work.org
I received one very good written comment at the very end from a member of our congregation and I wanted to address it here. The comment was this:
Look at Matthew 26:11 ("The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me."). We will always have the poor with us. So it seems that our giving will not solve this issue but it is God's desire to help the poor.
I'm very glad someone brought this interpretation to the table. As we know, the poor have always existed on this earth. Is this verse telling us that this is inevitable? That this will always be the case? Regardless of whether or not it is factually true that the poor have always been with us, we have to ask the even better question: Is Scripture telling us in this verse that in this world there will always be poor people? And thus, no amount of change or giving on our part will ever change this fact? I would actually argue, to the contrary. Here is why:
One of the rules I stress often to our youth group is to "Never Read a Bible Verse." That is, never read a verse on it's own. We must look at context in order to fully understand meaning. When we look at the context of this verse, we see in Matthew 26 that Jesus is nearing his crucifixion. The plot against Jesus is ramping up, and Jesus' enemies were almost ready to pounce. Right then, while Jesus was in Bethany a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table (Matthew 26:6-7). The disciples got all upset at this "waste" and then Jesus responds, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Matthew 26: 10-13). Right after this, Judas agrees to betray Jesus, and the end of the beginning, begins.
What we know from this verse in context is that Jesus is telling His disciples, who are living 2,000 years ago, that they will always be surrounded by poor people. It would be a jump for us to assume Jesus is talking about all humans, at all times. But even more importantly, we notice this verse in its' context is a way Jesus is making an even bigger point (the very same point which Jesus knows is causing a rucus and will ultimately lead Him to the cross). Jesus' statement here is an honoring of this poor person, and the point is that Jesus loves poor people! This verse highlights Jesus modeling to His disciples a counter-cultural love, respect, and giving of dignity to a poor person. So much so, that Jesus says this ought to be a core part of the Gospel message from here on out! What is the core point of this passage? That the poor are beautiful, that they do beautiful things, and they ought to be honored in the same way.
It seems to be a stretch from this one verse alone to make the argument that Scripture says nothing we do will eradicate the social evils and violence and perpretation against poor peoples. In fact, Scripture talks in both the older and the newer testaments about our duty to care for the poor. So much so that some Biblical theologians put this as a main theme of Scripture! Therefore, this verse ought not dissuade us from thinking poverty is erasable, but it ought to, as the commentator observed, show us God's heart for the poor. And when we follow in Jesus' footsteps, we'll also find ourselves doing things that are counter-cultural and at the same time life-giving to the poor people in our midst.
In conclusion, may I offer to you a few video resources: Gary Haugen, Civil Rights Laywer and the current Director of International Justice Mission recently gave a 20 minute TED Talk titled, "The Hidden Reason for Poverty the World Needs to Address Now". I highly recommend giving it a listen! Another great one done recently is by the Economist Brian Fikkert, in Nashville for Qideas. In his talk titled, "First World Poverty" he argues our definitions of success need to be changed before poverty can be fixed. Very interesting stuff indeed.
I'd love to hear your comments and reflections, so don't hesitate!
For His Glory,
- Pastor Mike
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