Posts tagged poor
Hard work! It’s an American tradition. We work hard for our money. We get what we deserve! God helps those who help themselves! Baseball! Apple Pie!
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:28)
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3)
Working hard and earning every dime and building our wealth may well be American values, but they are not necessarily Biblical values. Why does the Bible say we should work hard? So that we will have something to share with those in need. What sinful way of life does Paul lump in with sexual immorality and impurity? Greed! Making as much as you can so that you can buy stuff and stick it to those who said you could never be successful may be the new American dream, but the Bible calls it sin!
Look at the words of Paul in Ephesians 4 and let me just make one little change. Let’s replace one word, “Gentiles,” with a word that perhaps helps us understand Paul’s position a little better:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the [Americans] do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. (Ephesians 4:17-19)
A little too close to home? Another reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same? Let me say something now that red-blooded patriots will almost certainly find offensive – perhaps even blasphemous: The American dream is anti-Biblical…unless you apply that dream to everyone but yourself. In other words, the Biblical version says, “I will work my butt off to make sure that everyone around me has a good life. I will make sacrifices so that others can succeed. I will lead only for the sake of those who are following me and, in my successes, I will humble myself and serve those who would otherwise serve me.” That’s the Biblical dream for each of us.
Does that offend you? Consider for a moment that this is exactly what Jesus did. He worked everyday to try to pass something on to us that would make each of us better people and our world a better place. He endured 30 plus years on this messed up earth – 30 plus years away from his home in the heavens – to make sure that we had opportunities that we otherwise would never enjoy. He was beaten and killed so that you and I could have it all! His entire existence was for our sake. He only came so that we could succeed and he made himself low so that we could reach the highest heights.
Then he told us to go and do likewise.
It’s time we reevaluate our pursuit of the American dream in light of God’s hopes and dreams for us. God may want you to make a lot of money, but if he does, it’s for a reason. He may want you to ascend the corporate ladder and be endowed with immense power, but if he does, it’s for a reason. He may want you to be the world’s best at whatever it is that you do, but if he does, it’s for a reason. You need to figure out what that reason is and honor it. That’s God’s dream for you and it’s a dream that trumps all others – even American ones.
In such a wealth of stories today, something new jumped out at me. In Jesus’ parable of the great banquet, he talks about the invited guests not accepting the invitation. Then, he says, the master instructed his servant to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” Then, the servant replies:
“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.” (Luke 14:22 – emphasis mine)
Now, I never realized this before, but Jesus didn’t say, “the master ordered this to be done, then the servant did it and reported back.” He said that the master ordered the servant and the servant’s response is to tell his master that it’s already been done. In other words, the servant knew the master well enough to know what he was going to ask and had already done it.
If you’ve ever worked with someone who knew you so well that you “shared a brain,” you’re probably familiar with this scenario. If you know someone well enough, you can anticipate their thoughts and actions. In this story, it seems that the servant was in lock-step with his master. Even an act as bizarre as inviting the poor and lame to a great banquet was anticipated by this servant.
As servants of God, how well do we know our master? Do we know his heart for people in a way that will allow us to follow his desires even without him spelling it out for us? If we are in tune with him, should we really have to ask him how to respond to any and every situation? If we really know him, shouldn’t these things be obvious to us?
If there is anything that should be part of our knowledge-base by now, it is that God loves the poor, the broken, the outcast and the orphan. It is written all over the Bible and, in reality, all over our hearts. Our response to “the least of these” should be clear. We are to prefer them. We are to serve them. We are to invite them to sit with us and receive our best. We don’t have to wait for the masters permission. We don’t have to wait for his order. We have already received his heart for his people.
When I was growing up, I was always pretty good at getting on somebody’s “good side,” especially teachers. I was really good with English teachers. I could determine what writing style they liked and then write that way. I could figure out ways of arguing my point during class discussion that drew respect even if they disagreed. I just seemed to have a knack for it.
And so, using my super-human skills, let me tell you the sure-fire way to get on God’s good side. Care for the poor. The poor, the sick, the hurting, the outcast, the lonely – take care of them. God loves that stuff. He loves them. One of the greatest things about the story of the Good Samaritan is that Jesus used a figure who, to the Jews, was repulsive and vile. He might as well have said, “There was a guy laying in a ditch and Mother Theresa walked past him, then Billy Graham walked past him, then Osama Bin Laden stopped and helped him.” In this story, Osama is the good guy. Why? Because he helped the poor, the weak, the broken man.
In fact, look at what Jesus says in Luke chapter 11:
“be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you” (Luke 11:41)
Understand, the people he was talking to had a list as long as a football field of all the ways a person could be unclean and all the things they would have to do to become clean again. Jesus blows that out of the water and tells the people that if they want to be clean, they just need to be generous to the poor.
So, first he says that, essentially, the scum of the earth can be favored by God if they help someone who is injured. Then he says that the “really clean people” aren’t actually clean at all. Then he says that all it really takes to be clean is to be generous to the poor. You can see why this guy was making enemies among the religious leaders of his day.
However, the words of Jesus ring just as true today as they did 2000 years ago. I’ve heard it said that “it’s hard to find someone who is broke because they were too generous.” Generosity, it seems, is truly the way to get on God’s good side.
The story of the widow’s offering is one of the most powerful in the Bible. It only takes up 4 verses in the book of Mark, but it has had a significant impact on how we view giving and generosity in the Church. Here is a woman who most people were totally ignoring – a poor widow – but Jesus takes notice of her. Not only that, but he points her out to his disciples.
The story itself is great, but what is greater is the discussion that it starts almost any time it is shared. In fact, it must have started quite a discussion among the disciples then and there, because look at the beginning of the next chapter of Mark:
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1)
Do you see what happened there? Jesus points out the poor widow and talks about how she has “given more” than the wealthy donors because she has given all she has. Then, sometime between that observation and the time Jesus and his guys are leaving the temple, the discussion turns to the magnificence of the temple. How do you suppose that happened?
My guess is that somebody in the group said something like, “Yeah, but you really need those big donors. I mean, the woman is making a big personal sacrifice, but this temple wasn’t built from poor widows throwing in a couple of coins. I mean, just look at this place!”
Jesus then proceeds to make the point that even the extravagant temple is just rocks piled on top of each other that can be (and will be) destroyed. True, magnificent structures aren’t typically built using gifts from the poor – but Jesus isn’t really all that interested in building fancy buildings. He’s way more interested in transforming people.
In Jesus’ eyes, I believe that what he saw happening in that woman’s heart as she gave those two coins far exceeded the awe that most of us get when we visit a vast cathedral. When his disciples looked, they just saw a poor widow. When Jesus looked, he saw a grand example of his Father’s craftsmanship – a woman who understood her total reliance on God – and he was in awe of her. God, let us see people like Jesus saw them!
It’s safe to say that Amos didn’t come as the bearer of good news for anybody. He starts off with a laundry list of nations, God’s charge against them and the punishment the would receive. And just about the time that the people of Israel were starting to say, “Yeah, punish those evil enemies of ours,” God unleashes on his “chosen” people.
In fact, the majority of Amos’ prophecy is centered around the sins of Israel. In a stinging rebuke of his people, God lets forth steaming rhetoric:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)
All at once, God is dismissive of his people but embraces and champions justice and righteousness – the values that he has always stood for. He is basically saying, “Forget you. I’m going to do this my way…with or without your help.” God is not impressed by the religious ways of Israel.
It’s telling to me that God juxtaposes all of the religious acts of the people of Israel – the festivals, assemblies, offerings and songs – against their acts of disregard for the poor and oppressed:
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. (Amos 5:12)
They say that actions speak louder than words. But, in this case, some actions speak louder than others. How we treat our fellow human beings is of much greater importance to God than how we observe religious feasts. God used ritual as a way for people to pass on his story and his plan from generation to generation. But somehow, those rituals got twisted and eventually, the ritual took precedent over God, who instituted the ritual in the first place.
The same happens today. We turn church programs into sacred cows. We argue over the color of the carpet. We complain if the communion trays aren’t prepared properly. God, meanwhile, is looking at how we treat the poor and innocent – day in and day out. That is his criteria for us. That is his perspective. And, quite frankly, that is his right.