True Religion, Part 5 (The Poor)

If you read the New Testament carefully, you would have to come to the conclusion that Jesus and Paul felt compassion for the poor and disdain for the wealthy. It wasn’t that people with money weren’t welcome; the rich young man – Zacchaeus – some of the church members in Corinth – these people were rich and were welcome as part of the church. With a big IF. Zacchaeus voluntarily offered to make up for defrauding people. The rich young man walked away in sadness because he didn’t want to give his stuff up. And the wealthy members of Corinth were chastised for eating too much and getting drunk before the working folk got there, which led to Paul telling them to stay home and just gather for the cup and the bread. The love of money is not just the root of all evil; it is idolatry. Greed makes every list of sins, and Jesus isn’t impressed by wealth and grandeur. Even the Temple didn’t escape His ire.

And yet, the growth in American Christianity is largely among the prosperity preaching mega-churches. Evangelicals voted in record numbers of Pres. Trump because of his wealth, believes that his prosperity is a sign of God’s blessings. People are obsessed with how big congregations are, convinced that bigger is better. And while we love the Beatitudes, we almost always hear the Matthew 5 version and not the Luke 6 version. Matthew spiritualizes poverty and hunger; Luke doesn’t. In fact, Luke has 4 blessings and 4 woes, but Matthew is all about being blessed. It seems that even the Gospel writers, at times, seemed embarrassed that Jesus lifted up the poor and challenged the rich. Jesus was, however, very clear: “How hard it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God; it is like putting a camel through the eye of a needle.” (Matthew 19). Not impossible, but almost.

Again – to be clear – it isn’t money that is the problem; it’s the love of money. It is how we make it and use it. And while we do, as a nation, provide a limited safety net for the poor, we also have disdain for them. We call them welfare moms and food stamp cheats. We equate poverty with immoral or immature behavior. Politicians talk about “good, middle-class jobs”, but rarely about how to help the poor. We fund schools based on the wealth of the community we live in, so poor districts stay that way while districts with money build in more amenities. Health care is also based on wealth; instead of treating it as a right, we offer it as a privilege; you get what you can afford. When the Affordable Care Act was created (as imperfect as it is), lots of people with money berated it, but I never heard anyone in the lower income brackets complain. As a person who lived on welfare for parts of my childhood and only went to a doctor a couple of times in my life, I can tell you that having money is much better than not. With the government’s help (and a lot of hard work), I was able to dig out of that life. But you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots.

True religion teaches those who have wealth that they should care for those who don’t. It recognizes that most people in poverty aren’t there out of choice, but because they are part of systems that don’t provide adequately for them to better themselves. If we really cared about children in poverty, we would make sure we spent the same amount of money on their education as we do in wealthy districts. In America, it’s every child for themselves, regardless of their circumstances. That is immoral. And according to Jesus, it would be better for us to be thrown into the ocean with a millstone tied around our neck than to harm a child (Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agreed). And remember that the rich man who ignored Lazarus ended up in hell. Just saying.

Prayer – We mistreat Your people when we dishonor the poor, God of the oppressed and abused, and we repent. Forgive us, we pray. Amen.

Today’s art is Revolt of The Poor by Vladimir Feoktistov.