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.
Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash
I recently watched the 2013 Netflix documentary on trafficking called “Tricked.” It follows both former trafficking victims and current pimps who go on camera to talk about the industry. Human trafficking is a multi billion dollar industry that has increased exponentially in recent years. Because of the threats to prostitutes and the dehumanization of the victims, it’s virtually impossible to catch the pimps and incarcerate them. Police departments are completely overwhelmed and, because they are losing ground, governments are cutting money from the departments.
One District Attorney’s office said, “We’ve cut $1 million per year for three years. So they’re asking us to do more with less and with fewer people. At some point I have to weigh, can we continue to handle all these cases at the normal level? When somebody brings me four or five times the number of cases, I may not have the staff to handle all those cases.”
One of the detectives in the documentary said that pimps used to scout for women and young girls who came from broken homes or who had a past of abuse. With the advancement of technology, they said that everyone is a target, no matter how stable their home life is. He said that this is why trafficking has gotten uncontrollable so quickly. Trafficking is called “modern slavery” for a reason. Nobody goes into this “work” because they want to.
But it’s not just trafficking that has people distraught. There is a crisis at our southern border. Thousands of people every day are risking their lives to desperately cross into the US because they are running from dangerous gangs. There is a global crisis of oppression. The questions are “How did we get here?” and “What do we do about it?”
Many people will be packed into church buildings across the world on Easter Sunday to celebrate the risen Christ. I know there is a real temptation to use Easter as “outreach” in order to grow the church and reach those visitors. But maybe a better way is to talk about the desperation in the world and how Jesus came to redeem it. There is so much oppression, poverty, and sickness. The world needs redeemed from it. People need a refuge–a safe fortress. Isaiah 41:14 says, “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”
A few verses later says, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” God feeds and waters the poor. He is a fortress and a refuge for the oppressed and weary. There is hope in the resurrection. We need to share in this hope. We need to let people know that only in Christ can there be restoration and redemption from the pain and suffering of this life. And Christians need to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people who are suffering to remind them that God is the one who helps us.