If we actually go through the gospels and look at the glaring consistency of Jesus, we see that he was far more interested in healing than following traditions. Each gospel writer arranged their books with a specific purpose in mind. The stories aren’t necessarily chronological as much as they are thematic. In Matthew’s gospel, he arranges his stories to fit mathematical equations (he was a tax collector, after all), the discourses of Jesus to mimic the first five books of the Old Testament, and demonstrates how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
Within that structure, Matthew focuses heavily on Jesus’ ministry to heal and preach. As the stories unfold, he sprinkles in stories that interrupt the flow of Jesus’ ministry. These stories are about religious leaders. For example, right after the healing of all who were sick in Gennesaret, The Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat” (Matthew 15:2 ESV).
Rather than get into a full on argument or debate (which in churches can last for long periods of time), Jesus rebukes them and goes back to healing people. He had no interest in winning arguments. That was a waste of time and kept him from ministering to people in need. The very next things Jesus did were healing a woman’s daughter from a demon, healing many along the Sea of Galilee, and feeding a hungry crowd of 4,000. To say Jesus was busy serving was an understatement.
Enter the Pharisees and Sadducees. “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1). Testing Jesus. Let that sink in. He was exercising the greatest form of compassion on mankind. He was healing, feeding, and redeeming people–setting the captives free and treating them with dignity and respect. And the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test him. They couldn’t help themselves. They were deconstructing what Jesus was accomplishing.
Jesus was clear that followers of him must do all that he commanded. We all are essential workers in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ clear example to us demonstrates that serving others in need takes priority over everything else. This is the fulfillment of the Law. Loving our neighbors requires service to others.
When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1, 2 ESV). This was no small feat for a group of fishermen, tax collectors, and otherwise ordinary people. Jesus could have sent them out to do just about anything, but he specifically sent them to heal diseases, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God.
Their mission to do this was Jesus’ mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ charge to his disciples did not arrive out of a vacuum. Rather, it was rooted in his own mission.
Like Jesus himself, he called his disciples to leave everything and rely completely upon God. They were commanded to not take anything extra with them. They were to rely on the goodwill of people. In doing so, they completely put their faith in God. God provides. God is the great healer. God calls his people to help other people, to feed, heal, and free others. This is why the crowds were always pressing in against Jesus. They were desperate for someone to heal them.
Jesus is no different today. There will always be oppression, hunger, and disease. And it’s up to us to care for one another. This is exactly in step with who Jesus is. His mission is our mission.
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When we think of caring for the poor we probably get a picture of taking up collections and distributing the proceeds to those in need. Certainly this is a biblical concept, as we see it throughout the Bible. Paul took up a collection for the people who were greatly impacted by a famine (1 Cor. 16:1-4, 2 Cor. 8:1-15, Rom. 15:14-32). In Acts 2, Christians were selling possessions and laying the money at the apostles’ feet so that nobody was with need. They broke bread together and ate in each others’ homes.
But there is a deeper aspect to caring for the poor that is often missed. The Bible instructs us to stay connected with one another, to help out, and to pursue justice. Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) says, “. . . learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widows cause.” It wasn’t just about open-fisted giving to the poor. It was about correcting oppressors and shielding the poor and oppressed from people who would wrong them.
Jesus said that the poor you will always have among you. This is not a descriptive statement telling us to resign ourselves to the idea that people will always be poor. No, he was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11: “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” In the context of Deuteronomy 15, there were poor because the Israelites were unfaithful in caring for the poor. In fact, the latter part of verse 11 says, “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'” Just a few verses before, God says, “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deut. 15:4).
But caring for the poor was not just giving handouts. In the context of justice, it was about giving people dignity. Israel was expected to provide jobs for people and let them use their skills to bless others. There are people who physically cannot work, and they were to be taken care of. But for the ones who were poor and could work, it was expected that they work. It’s interesting that Jesus never (to our knowledge) gave money to beggars. Instead, he healed them. Why? Because Jesus was just! He was restoring their dignity and their right, honor, and blessing to work. We often only view Jesus’ miracles as a demonstration of his power and revelation. But we’re completely missing the point. He healed people because of justice! He healed people so they could go back to work. He healed them so they could bless other people.
When this godly cycle happens, there are no poor in the land.
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