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Finding Jesus in Poverty; Can You?

July 28, 2012

“If you’re in a bad financial situation in life, there must be a character flaw somewhere.” – From a sermon by a senior pastor of a church in the United States, and owner of several successful family-run nation-wide ministries; author or co-author of several books and DVDs; also a CPA and son of a millionaire.

“What’s your character flaw?” – That same pastor, to a man who had lost his home.

“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” – Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 9:11

“There is no logical connection between being smart and having money.” – Christopher Langan, whose IQ was first measured at 200, and then “unmeasurable, off the charts”.

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” – Jesus of Nazareth

True or false: We live in an era of unparalleled prosperity in the history of the world.

The answer is both. It depends on where in the world you live. It depends on what part you play, what your position is in the world of business. In the western world, where many western countries are facing huge deficits, and unemployment is quite high, you might be surprised to learn that the “bottom line” for the majority of major corporations has continued to grow. In the United States, the Dow Industrial Average, a benchmark of the health of the market, is thousands of points higher than it was five or six years ago. And yet we’re daily reminded that we’re in a recession. We see the unemployment statistics. We see family and friends who are struggling. Some of us are struggling. And sometimes we ask where God is in all of it. Where is God in the lives of those who are struggling to get by. Where is God in our desperation.

We see families in third world countries who all look so frail that it it’s almost a surreal thing to us, to be so impoverished, to live in a hut with no windows, much less air conditioning or plumbing, if they even have a hut to call home. We may ask where God is in the daily desperate situations they face.

Something I’ve seen that disturbs me greatly is people thinking that maybe, or even surely, poverty or financial hardship is the result of sin in the life of those who suffer it. This accusation or conclusion may come from outside, such as the pastor and son of a millionaire quoted above, or it may be the conclusion of some of those who are in financial hardship, and are desperately trying to understand what’s happened to them, why life has turned out the way it has. They may think God is punishing them. Or maybe He doesn’t care.

Jesus knows financial hardship. As a matter of historical record, in the later years of His life, up until He was crucified on the cross, Jesus of Nazareth was homeless. In the Gospel of Matthew we see this exchange: Matthew 8:19-20
19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus was telling the man what he was in for if he chose to come with Jesus. He wouldn’t be doing ministry out of a mansion. If he followed Jesus he wouldn’t be doing ministry during the day and sleeping in a 5-star hotel at night. If he chose to go along and follow Jesus, he would be living a life of homelessness.

Jesus had become a very famous man by the time this man had met Him, but Jesus didn’t use His fame or influence to gain wealth. He could have. Jesus could have used His fame and influence to gain a high and lucrative position in society. He could have become a political leader. Jesus could have ruled the political and financial world.

But Jesus mission was very different than that. Jesus heart was different than that. Instead of taking advantage of who He was for financial gain, Jesus gathered to Him the lost, the broken. Jesus came to serve. In Matthew 20:28
Jesus clarifies what His purpose is: “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Today we put a high value on money; how much we have; how much others have. Whether we admit it or not, whether we know it or not, money often affects the way we look at ourselves and others. Don’t believe it? Ever pay justalittlebitmore for that article of clothing because it looked so good on you, instead of the other clothes that may look good, but not good like that one? Ever want to spend a little more for those clothes? That car? That jewelry? Ever admire the expensive clothes someone was wearing or car they were driving or lavish home they lived in?

We don’t see so many TV shows and magazine articles on what the rich and famous are wearing and how they’re living because there’s no demand for it. “Cribs” and “Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous” didn’t get big Nielsen ratings because nobody cared. Do you know anyone who’s read those articles or watched those TV shows? You don’t have to raise your hand, but don’t point either. Besides, people will wonder why you’re looking at your screen with your hand raised.

A “dirty little secret” that’s not so secret is that there are people who will look down on those that have less than them. They’re not as educated, not as smart. Their manners aren’t refined. Worse, it’s “those people”, as if the amount of money someone has elevates them to a higher species of human being. Even people who serve can think “I’m helping those people“. And this line, this economic line, crosses all racial boundaries. “Those poor people”.

Jesus had a much different standard. Jesus standard, the scale by which He valued people, was that He didn’t have one. Every human being was equal in Jesus eyes and heart. If Jesus had one thing that bugged Him it was hypocrisy; the hypocrisy of the self-righteous, the hypocrisy of those that put on a show for others, trying to project their “righteousness”.

In an earlier post, “Finding Jesus In… The Bible (A “Duh, No Kidding” Blog Post)” we talked about Christians in poor parts of the former Soviet Union and modern China. Here we find Christians who live in poverty below what the standard for poverty is in the United States, and yet they have joy. They’ve found a joy like no other. They have a hope. They have a love, for each other and for God. All because they now know the love they’ve already received, and receive from God, and will receive. No matter their social status. No matter their position in the financial world.

Many of the hymns and worship music of today is a descendant of the gospel music of the slaves of pre-twentieth century America. This music came from people who had been violently kidnapped from their home or had been born into slavery. The slaves were not highly valued by the people who owned them. In fact, the slaves were not considered “people”, they were not considered human beings. They were property. They had all the legal rights of a mule. And they were not treated well, by any standard. Yet, when we listen to or sing the gospel songs they wrote, you can sense a joy in many of them, or hope. These Christian slaves knew that they were highly valued by God, and no less so than any other human being. They had found just how high their true worth was when they Found Jesus.

Jesus loved the poor (and still does). In the Gospels, the four books of the Bible that record Jesus life here on earth, we often see the great importance Jesus puts on showing practical love to the poor, the under-resourced, the hungry, the homeless. In Matthew we see how high a value Jesus puts on showing practical love to the poor: Matthew 25:35-36
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Jesus is not talking about Himself here,
as if He’s acknowledging things people had done directly for Him in situations. He was saying that to help each other is something that God highly values. We see this when Jesus ends this teaching with “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

Jesus half-brother James addresses the issue of showing practical love for the poor when he writes this: James 2:15-16
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

Sometimes people will see someone in need, and it may stir their soul to some degree, it may touch their heart in some way. There may be concern. But they do nothing about it. A Christian may say to themselves “I’ll pray for that person”. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with praying for the needy–in fact it’s something Christians should do–what if you are the answer to that persons prayer? Will you pray for their needs, or will you show them the practical love and compassion that Jesus and James are talking about?

Compassion is a far cry greater than a concern. Concern inspires you to post about the hungry on facebook. Compassion compels you to go out and feed them.

As an example, I have a fair amount of facebook friends that will occasionally post something about animal welfare. There’s one that I know of, Melissa, who I know in “real life”, that puts time in a “no kill” animal shelter. Melissa isn’t just concerned about animals, she has compassion for them, and her compassion tugs her heart in the direction of practical love.

See, Jesus is never described in the Bible as “showing concern” for anyone. What we see on the Bible is Jesus “having compassion for” people.

The Greek word in the Gospels that’s translated into “having compassion for” is “splanchnizomai”, which is related to the noun “splanchnon”, which in the plural literally means “bowels” or “internal organs”. In Jesus time splanchnon was also synonymous with “love”. Splanchnizomai is having a deep feeling of love, the type so intense you can feel it in your guts. This is what Jesus is described as feeling, compassion, a love that went to the core of His being.

The compassion we see God having for the poor is not only in the New Testament. For instance, in Isaiah we see this: Isaiah 58:6-7
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

It’s always been Gods desire that we have compassion for each other. God has always desired, to the core of His being, that we “love our neighbor as ourselves”. God specifically states His desire for this in Leviticus 19:18 when He says “love your neighbor as yourself”.

God has always loved the poor, the under-resourced, the “have nots”. We see it in Gods words in Isaiah and Leviticus, and we see it in the words and life of Jesus. We see it in the words and life of Jesus followers, such as James. We see it in the daily work of those who toil and give of themselves because Jesus has impacted their hearts to such a degree that it’s not an option for them, it’s a necessity; their heart tugs them in the direction of compassion. We see it in the sacrifice of Jesus, who died so that the Kingdom of Heaven would be available to every man, woman and child, no matter their social or financial status.

We not only Find Jesus in the life of poverty that He lived on earth, we Find Jesus in His compassion for those who are in poverty today.

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From → Christianity, Jesus

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