I tend to swim around in my mind and heart a good bit in Christ’s teachings on the matter of poverty. In the Gospel of Matthew, we can find that Jesus has much to say about it. At times his teachings may even have seemed contradictory to some or many. Obviously in one regard, he taught of physical poverty, the lack of means and such. And on another front, Jesus seemed to be addressing pride and spiritual poverty. But there is no contradiction really. Can one be addressed without touching upon the other? Truly?! I think not, and maybe that’s exactly why Jesus proposed both ideas together in his teachings.
This is an issue that is really near and dear to my heart, as the past 7 years of my life have whole-heartedly been focused a great deal on serving those in poverty. I think it’s good for “the Church”, (people of faith) to consider that Jesus’ teachings on poverty were TO THE yet to be born CHURCH, (to people of faith who were following his instruction as he led them around). He wasn’t speaking to Caesar (government rulers) about poverty. In some cases there were likely people of faith in the crowds Jesus was speaking to who were poor themselves. So, hmmmm??? What could that possibly mean for them?! My understanding is that the Church, people of faith who should be viewing each other as one corporate body under Christ, (no matter how skewed humanity has become that it would dissect doctrines and break out into sub groups called sects and denominations), and should be looking to “serve” one another, and also serving those outside of faith with what they have been given—because the premise in Christ is that all good things come from God anyway, including provision. Christ shared a “share and share alike mentality”, which I believe meant that according to what we are given, IF we are like-minded and hearted to him, we will not hoard those things for ourselves, but rather would share especially with those in need. I wonder sometimes if he said we will always have the poor among us was like some kind of test to see if we would be giving and obedient to remaining generous even if we knew it would never seem to be enough. I wonder sometimes why many believers would look to Caesar, (the government) to do their share of taking care of the poor? Then when the government moves to take a larger slice, we see it as some kind of secular, governmental power play or abuse that we should be made to pay more taxes for social programs that would help the poor. In this we often cannot clearly see the hypocrisy. But those who don’t share in the faith can. They see the church eating the fatted calf, taking the best cuts, wearing the finest garments, living in the biggest mansions/houses, having want for nothing, while at the same time extending its hand to drop a few coins into the cup of the poor man sitting in front of the church gates that won’t allow him in, because well…..he isn’t dressed right, for starters.
I can tend to be a little harsh on my view of what the church as a whole offers to serving the poor, primarily because I have been living in the barrel of poverty for the past 7 years, serving those in poverty, while watching the larger portion of the church turn away and cross the street to avoid the discomfort of confrontation. What confrontation would that be? Well, it would be the very Spirit of God that convicts the heart of one who has much. Maybe there’s a fear that God might ask too much of me? After all, I worked hard to earn my money. It’s mine! And there’s the rub when it comes to the teachings of Christ, those who claim to follow and serve him, but their actions just don’t jive. So…maybe, just maybe THAT is why Christ said we would always have the poor with us. Maybe it has more to do with our own unwillingness to give up our riches to truly be a disciple of Christ and serve the poor. Not everything Jesus said was in a literal sense, but as parable. Perhaps in the statement about the poor, he gave a prophesy about His Church that was a little of both, literal and parable. It certainly is something worth chewing on if one is at all serious about integrating Christ’s teachings into their life.
One of the most humbling things I have ever witnessed in all of my past 7 years in poor, rural Ecuador is how those who are poor in worldly fashion but rich in Spirit serve others with the very little they have. I’m talking about people who live in one room shanties with barely a window or door opening, with floorboards that the wood is so separated, it can’t keep the rats out. Those who eat rice and eggs from chickens that might be running around, but will sit a visitor to their home at their table and feed him or her chicken cooked from one of their hens that they depend on for eggs to feed their family.
Another extremely humbling testimony was born when my husband and I became displaced, made instantly homeless. We made a couple of quick calls to a community leader we had worked with who lived about 40 minutes from where we were living at the time. In rural Ecuador 40 minutes away can seem like hours of driving. But the next thing we knew, half of the poor community we had been serving for the 3 years prior pulled up into our drive, helped us load up all of our ministry tools and personal belongings in an oversized farm truck, and took us away from there within 3 hours. They put us in a cabin by a beautiful river and told us to rest our betrayed and broken hearts for a time in the tranquility there. Didn’t charge us a dime for the cabin or for the truck, or anything! They even fed us! A couple of days later, 2 of the men came back to us and took us around to talk to a few area men who had rental houses, to help us find a new home. We were offered a rental home for a very good price, because the owner was impressed with the good we were doing in the community. (A Divine appointment, I think!) We moved in a few weeks later, after his crew was finished with renovations that had already been in progress. We’ve been in that home now for almost 4 years. The things that blew me away even more than the betrayal that befell us which caused us to lose our previous home was that here were these people who we had only seen as poor, who needed our help all that time ago….and those very same people came to our aid when we were in distress. These people became our family here. They literally rescued us. That’s actually very humbling, even looking back on it now! So, I believe Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he was speaking of serving the poor and speaking those words among even some of the poor in his day. I believe it is the heart of Jesus that we would reach out to help and serve the poor in any and every way we have means to. My own life experience has humbly taught me that, but not without some intervention by the Holy Spirit to ensure I understand what it is He is trying to teach me on the matter. We never know just how much our acts to love and serve the poor will empower them to pay it forward when they recognize a call to help another. Maybe THAT is truly a hint of what we’re supposed to be learning; a true picture of “discipleship”.
We as a church, as one Body in Christ are pretty selective about which teachings of the Christ we want to adopt. Poverty, feeding the poor is one of those things that will always stare us in the face and confront us with the very depravity within us who call ourselves saved and redeemed. And perhaps this is why we as a church should be the very first to address the plank in our own eye before we point out the splinter in another’s. Perhaps this is why most of all the Church needs a redeeming Savior every single day, and not just in a moment of conversion. I think Christ is calling us to stop “doing church” and start BEING The Church. Endless poverty is merely one significant manner in which He is trying to get us to truly come to His Table and “see”.
Claudia is not a missionary’s wife. She is a missionary in her own right. Together we stumble around doing our best to serve people for God’s glory.