Whose Responsibility are the Poor?
A reflection amid the Congressional debate over the budgets, taxes, health care and the size of government.
Solomon was one of the great kings in Israel’s history, and he was known worldwide for his wisdom. In a Psalm ascribed to him we find his advice for those who rule.
Give your love of justice to the king O God,
And righteousness to the king’s son.
Help him judge your people in the right way;
Let the poor always be treated fairly.
May the mountains yield prosperity for all,
And may the hills be fruitful.
Help him to defend the poor,
To rescue the children of the needy,
And to crush their oppressors. (Psalm 72:1-4)
It is the responsibility and privilege of all who rule to care for those who are struggling. Jesus has affirmed that “the poor you have with you always.” (Mark 14:7) There will always be the opportunity to display the heart of God in sharing what we have with those who need it. It is what we do as image-bearers. The presence of the poor reminds us that our abundance is not just for our own consumption. We are blessed to bless.
Everyone has Something to Offer
A terrible thing has happened to the poor. Corrupt leaders have used their plight for political leverage. They promise to be for them what only God can be, and the poor are disappointed and disrespected. Even well-intentioned charities have aided in diminishing the dignity of struggling people.
The poorest people are those who feel worthless. That kind of poverty starts inside when a person begins to believe that, because of his or her economic status, he or she is of less value than others. Handouts can confirm that lie. When nothing is asked in return for the handout, it shouts aloud that the person has nothing of value to trade. The truth is that everyone has something to give. It might be as simple as a song, a poem, a joke, advice, a story, a task or their time.
The true church of Jesus Christ will not be pushed to the side when it comes to caring for the poor.
Of course, many could find meaningful labor if we took their plight seriously. There is the rub. We are very busy and helping the poor is time-consuming. It is much easier to peel off a few bills and hand them over without ever looking into the eyes of the needy. Somehow, we know that if we ever look into their soul, we will be connected.
That’s Where the Church Steps In
But those in the body of Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, have it in their spiritual DNA. The God who cares shares his life with them. They care. It bothers them that civil government has pushed the church to the periphery and taken the job of managing the poor. Handouts from an impersonal entity enables poverty.
The true church of Jesus Christ will not be pushed to the side in this important assignment. We cannot be content with laws that allow us to worship in our churches but forbid us to engage in the issues of societal life.
It is revealing to hear political leaders strategizing to remove the tax advantages of ministries and charities. They are saying that the church’s people are not valued nor wanted in the realm of taking care of the needy. They see the government as the solution and want the church to get off the turf. But we can take the field again by each member of Christ’s body getting involved with a person of need. It doesn’t have to be a sponsored program. It is our daily privilege.
Working Together to Find a Solution
It’s time for there to be mutual respect and collaboration between the church and the government in addressing the weak and poor.
As church people repent of neglecting our task, we will refuse to be supplanted by those offering a bribe to the poor in exchange for a vote. We accept our role as representatives of the kingdom of God. We admit that our abundance is our opportunity to find and meet the needs of others who struggle. We will also stand against policies that reflect injustice toward the weak. We will hold leaders in the government and the church to account. We know that we are more than a social service, but we also know that the good news we proclaim transforms people; and people make culture.
The government has the power of the sword. It can be intimidating. The body of Christ has the power of the cross — where love defeated all the principalities and powers that rule by manipulation. We may not be intimidating to those who only observe the circumstantial, but the powers of darkness know us. The light of the world has come and we are reflections of that light. Because we are ruled by the love of God, we proclaim the good news that a new creation has been launched — and that anyone can participate by trusting Jesus the Lord.
We also promote justice in all arenas and stand against every expression of injustice. Our Lord came to set the world right again. We work with him. His love compels us to equip people to live in the knowledge and wisdom of God — as citizens of his kingdom and as citizens of this world. It is time for there to be mutual respect and collaboration between the church and the government in addressing the weak and poor. They have suffered enough. It is our opportunity.