Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lenten Blog Post Series: The Myth that God Wants the Poor to be Poor

I had not arrived at an idea of something to add a spiritual practice for Lent--an idea that is increasingly more and more popular in the church, (until) this blog post series--something that I have not done since my "We Are Legion" week of blog posts nearly a year ago. One of the things that has become a great labor in my work (both with folks inside and outside of the church) is attempting to debunk some of the more harmful myths that exist about God and about the church. 

And so one of my Lenten practices, for this plus the following five weeks, is, in effect, asking for another fast for y'all--a fast from some of those hurtful myths that we tell ourselves (or allow other people to convince us of) about God. 

The week of March 9: The Myth that God Considers You Worthless
The week of March 16 The Myth that God Wants You to be Rich
The week of March 23: The Myth that God Wants the Poor to be Poor
The week of March 30: The Myth that God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
The week of April 6: The Myth that God Tells Us Exactly When Jesus is Coming Back
The week of April 13 (Holy Week): The Myth that God is Dead

Coincidentally, the inevitability of poverty is a topic that was brought up twice yesterday in the course of my workday--during the Bible study I teach at church on  Tuesday mornings, and by an acquaintance of mine as he talked to an ecumenical gathering about his ministry of providing low-barrier assistance for homeless persons (which is partly why I held off on posting this until today--I wanted to take a bit of time to think about all that was said).

In both cases, though, a single verse came out--and it is one that I hear quoted frequently, in some variation of, "Doesn't Jesus tell us that the poor will always be with us?"

And yes, He does.  Or, more accurately, He says it in John 12:8 to Judas Iscariot when Judas objects to the anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany with a spikenard ointment that, in Judas' words, was worth a year's wages (ie, 365 denarii, with one denarius representing the basic day's wage for an unskilled laborer).

Like just about any Biblical verse, though, it is important to put this saying of Jesus in context.  Firstly, bear in mind that He is saying this to Judas, who, John tells us in this story, stole from the common purse of the apostles.  Additionally, remember that the apostles themselves are, essentially, poor.  They gave up their livelihoods and permanent homes to become itinerant and follow Jesus.

In other words: Judas is stealing from the poor--from the impoverished disciples.  And so Judas will indeed always have the poor with him, because he steals from them and prevents them from accumulating any sort of savings.

Additionally, Jesus does not say this in a vacuum--He immediately follows this saying up with a rejoinder: "but you will not always have me."  It is both a prophesy of His coming crucifixion and subsequent ascent into heaven and a commentary on the fleeting nature of mortal flesh.  Poverty, though, is systemic and inevitable for however long we have human economics of currency, barter, and supply and demand.

Finally, we would be doing ourselves a disservice to focus on John 12:8 at the expense of the many, many other verses in which Jesus--and the Scriptures entire--go to bat for the poor (there are too many to list individually here).  Truly, our Bible is a witness to and for the poor, and part of the good news of the Gospel is that the poor can look forward to a day when they will live in the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18-19).

Make no mistake: According to Scripture, neither God or Jesus want the poor to remain poor.  If anything, God demonstrated that He is on the side of the poor by ultimately coming to us in human form by way of poverty--being born in a barn to blue-collar parents.  God is on the side of the poor, and if you yourself live in material poverty, take heart: God may not promise you riches in this life (see the previous entry in this series about God wanting us to be rich, either), but God promises you rewards and treasures in heaven.  God's justice represents a reversal of fortunes when the poor will become rich and the rich will become poor (Luke 6), and God sees your poverty and promises you a better life with Him.

In the meanwhile, though, God has also tasked us all with the monumental quest of ensuring there are fewer impoverished persons who have only that divine promise to sustain them in their financial insecurity.  Let us continue that quest in His name with vigor.

Yours in Christ,

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