Can we stop poverty?
In a recent conversation with friends we were discussing the recent news from Syria and how terrible it must be to flee for one’s life. One person added a surprisingly common response: They said: Oh, this is just the beginning, everything has to get a lot worse still and then Jesus will return. By the way – they said that with a smile, no doubt focusing on that glorious day!
Perhaps they were meditating on the verses from Matthew 24:6-8, or Mark 13:7, or the outcome of the Seals being opened in Revelation 6. Similarly, many may read the story in Matthew 26:6-11, where a woman (most likely a prostitute) enters into the home of Simon the Leper (where Jesus was) and breaks a jar of alabaster perfume over Jesus’ head. The disciples were not pleased, seeing the “wasted” financial benefit that could have rather been used for the poor. Jesus’ reply - The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me - has been used to justify that the presence of the poor is a sign that the end times are near so best not interfere and delay his return!
If this is the case, why should we engage with the Sustainable Development Goals, or with peace and reconciliation responses, or with humanitarian aid? Why should we try and protect our world from climate change, encourage the safety of threatened species and explore renewable energy options?
Let us think this through again.
The whole Bible is entwined with evidence of God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised. Again, the Bible is full of references to God’s anger and displeasure against greed and idolatry. Jesus came to redeem, restore and to give life in all its fullness. The evidence of his life demonstrated this in every encounter. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, advocated for justice. He broke down the social hierarchical (ethnic, gender, status, age) exclusion by engaging with lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Romans, Samaritans, women, privileged and poor unlike - Galatians 3:28). In the story in Matthew 26 he is in the home of a leper and a woman (possibly a prostitute) is there anointing him.
Looking with this contextual and integral mission lens at the verse that the poor will always be present, we see a new meaning. Wherever we are, as we live out our lives as Jesus would, with indiscriminate love, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised will be attracted to us as they were to Jesus. Not only this, we will always be amongst them as Jesus calls us to love and serve those in need (Matthew 25:31-46 clarifies this with story of the goats and the sheep. See also Deuteronomy 15:10-11)
Too many of us over the years have used the verses about the poor, about wars and natural disasters, and the like, to justify our lack of response. We have built expensive buildings, spent thousands on ourselves saying this is our “alabaster offering”, arguing that 'as the poor will always be there' it is better to worship God with extravagance. We have defended this with the spiritual assertion that saving souls is more important that caring for the poor, preferring to offer a Gospel that is only relevant when we are dead. It is time to change.
Lord, as we follow you we recognise that the poor, the marginalised, the oppressed, the refugee and the outcast will always with us simply because they are attracted to the Good News that in Christ all are equal, all are loved and made whole. Like you, we need to be amongst those in need to reflect that love extravagantly.
Lord, you who calmed the storms with a word, you raised the dead and set the captive free. We dare to believe that in you we are called to a ministry of reconciliation, of healing and discipling of nations. Believing this means we do not give up on hearing the terrible news of war, hurricanes, earthquakes, famine. Instead, we rise up together to be present amongst those who suffer because of these, knowing that where the need is greatest, there you call us to be.
Here we are Lord, send us together in Christ.