Christianity 201

July 13, 2016

What Jesus Really Meant about the Perpetuation of the Poverty Class

Jesus on Poverty

Okay, maybe the article in its original form had a clearer title! This one came recommended to us, the author is Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus (Zondervan). To read at source, click the title:

What did Jesus really mean when he said, “The poor you will always have with you”?

Poverty can never be overcome right? It’s a problem that simply can’t be solved.

After all, Jesus said, “The poor you will ALWAYS have with you.”

It’s right there in Scripture. John chapter 12. Verse 8.

So don’t get too worried about tackling poverty and injustice sonny-boy. It’s a losing battle. Tone down your revolutionary rhetoric and give up the fight.

Right?

Perhaps like me, you have experienced that metaphorical pat on the head. This verse is often used as an attempt to take the wind out of all the rest of Jesus’ commands to work for justice and to love mercy.

Well, bollocks.

I reckon Jesus actually meant the OPPOSITE of what we usually take him to mean here. It seems to me that Jesus was actually advocating generosity and action to eradicate poverty, rather than hands-up-in-the-air, shoulder-shrugging apathy.

Here’s my reasoning.

You know how some catch-phrases are just so well known, that everyone knows the ending – you don’t even really need to say it?

“Sticks and stones.”

Everyone already knows the ending, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Just saying Sticks and Stones is enough for you to catch my drift.

It just so happens that in saying “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus was quoting another well-known Biblical phrase – from a well-known passage of the Jewish Torah. Everyone hearing him back then would have caught his drift. Here’s the full original quote:

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deut 15:7-11)

So, reading Jesus’ words in their original context you can see that His words were meant to spur generosity towards the poor. “Open wide your hand!” The command to be open-handed towards the poor comes directly from Yahweh himself.

Not apathy and tight-fistedness as we use these words to mean today.

The next time someone says, “The poor you will always have with you…” Be sure to complete the sentence: “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”

The second thing to note about this story is that Jesus says these words to rebuke Judas who was scornful towards a woman for pouring out her perfume on Jesus:

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)

So, when we use Jesus’ words to justify not caring about the poor, we are actually repeating the very sin of Judas himself, who was robbing the poor.

Of course, this posture of generosity and open-handedness lines up much more consistently with the rest of Jesus’ life and teachings, starting with the revolutionary song sung by Mary while Jesus was still in the womb:

“He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53)

You can see Jesus fulfilling this prophecy in the feeding of the 5000. The same word from Mary’s Sing, “filled”, is found in John 6:12, where we hear that that motley crowd all ate and were “filled”…

The need of 5000 hungry people was met in that place and time because one little boy was willing to be “open-handed” towards the poor and needy.

Later, after Jesus’ death, the early believers also took these teachings on open-handedness seriously:

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were NO needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:34-35)

There were no needy persons among them! Poverty was eradicated in their midst. That was the natural outcome of taking Jesus’ teachings seriously.

Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom is coming. He calls us to be part of it. The poor are going to be lifted up. The hungry are going to be fed. Your call and my call is to be open-handed.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get on with it!


February 15, 2015

The Buck Stops Here

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  II Cor 5:10 NLT

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.   Romans 14:12 ESV

As you know by now, for Sundays in February, we’re highlighting the website Christian Fellowship Devotions. Today we look at the writing of Janice Moser, one of the regular contributing writers at the site. Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate the site.

Stopping the Buck

Most of us have heard and even used the phrase, “The Buck stops here,” which is said to have originated from the French phrase “bouc émissaire,” which translates as scapegoat.

During a recent election campaign, it was refreshing to hear one candidate using that phrase to accept responsibility, instead of blaming others as some national and local leaders do – even many years after those blamed have left office – and the media don’t do their job. They don’t hold them accountable, if it’s someone they like, or they are afraid of not being “politically correct.” Our Georgia governor, Nathan Deal – with whom I definitely have not always agreed – has shown true leadership in taking responsibility (even sometimes when not legally necessary, as during an ice storm for which – unlike in NY – he did not have the authority to shut schools etc.). There are so many political leaders who could learn from him.

responsibilityBut it’s not just political “leaders” who try to cast blame on others, rather than “manning up,” as the modern phrase goes. Most all of us do it at some time or another. Having been involved in the Criminal Justice system for a decade-and-a-half, I have heard more than my share of the phrase “someone else did it,” as well as countless excuses given for committing crimes. In one case, a young man had five separate convictions of felonies – five separate Grand juries had indicted him five separate times. Five separate trials, five separate juries had then found him guilty, five separate times of five separate violent crimes. Yet his mother stood up and said “Your Honor, every time my son has been convicted of a crime, it’s been someone else’s fault.” She did not have a clue how obviously ridiculous she sounded. The discerning judge responded: “Ma’am, you can blame someone else once but not five times – and eventually your son has to accept his own responsibility. You, ma’am are part of the problem. Sit down and don’t say anything else.” The buck had to stop with the young man, but in his defense, he didn’t get very good parenting or role modeling in that regard.

We live in a world where society doesn’t often hold us responsible for our own sins or mistakes. We live in a world where people overlook the fact that someone has committed traumatizing violence against others, and instead of holding them responsible for their acts, the people lift the felons up as heroes. We live in a world where someone violates a law and someone’s safety by breaking into their home or business, but instead of saying “it’s my fault,” the perpetrator sues the victim because the perpetrator gets hurt while committing a felony. We live in a world that glamorizes violence with television shows and movies that make heroes out of criminals. For those of us who work with the traumatized victims, this can be frustrating, as we see the sometimes life-changing effects of the violence. We want justice here and now, we work toward that, and thankfully sometimes it happens. It is our responsibility to do our part:

Isaiah 1:17 (MSG) Work for justice.
  Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
  Go to bat for the defenseless

And regardless of the success or failure of Earthly systems, God Himself will not accept excuses. We do all ultimately answer to Him, and he will hold us responsible for our own sins and crimes. He holds us individually accountable. With God, “the buck stops here” for each one of us. Let’s all resolve that in 2015, we will take responsibility for our own sins and mistakes, and encourage others to do so as well. Otherwise, we aren’t being honest with ourselves, others – or with God. The more people (including us) who take responsibility for their actions, the safer and healthier society we will have – and the more we will please the Lord.

Proverbs 28:13
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.

December 25, 2010

A Christmas Consideration: Who Are You Giving To This Year?

With Christmas 2010 now consigned the realm of “memories,” and with most people feeling “tapped out” when it comes to giving, it’s time to think of another aspect of giving; the donations we make in the area we generally refer to as “tithes and offerings.”

Oh no!  Not that topic!

decemberBeing self employed and in retail means Christmas isn’t a lot of fun. We are about to put the last of our supplier payments in the mail. If there wasn’t going to be any further December activity and the amounts were low, we’re paying all the current invoices as well. We don’t pay ourselves a salary, so just getting bills paid is a major goal.

So this is a good time to start thinking about our personal finances, and in particular, our charitable donations. Not knowing exactly what our income is going to be makes it harder to figure out what we should be giving, but I don’t know anybody who, at tax time in April, looks at their receipts and says, “I should have given less.

Giving shouldn’t be done in December just to get a receipt. We give because we’ve been blessed, and because God commands it. But December is a good time to take stock of our personal finances and see what we can do to help others

So who can we bless this year? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Our first responsibility is to our local church, the place we call our spiritual home, where we receive teaching, prayer support and fellowship.
  • If there’s a “second” on the list, for many this year it is giving to relief and development in the third world, especially projects which are bringing fresh water wells to areas that don’t have potable water.
  • Has there been a natural disaster somewhere in the world this year that you watched on television but didn’t actually respond to?   Find out if your denomination or churches in your area know of people who are actually “on the ground” working alongside people in devastated areas.
  • Locally, who is actually doing ministry where you live?  There are always examples of people doing really exemplary work among people in need; people in prison; people dealing with addictions.   Find out what these people need and what avenues of support exist to help financially.
  • Is there someone in your area who does student ministry who is lacking in financial support? Consider urban missionaries and youth workers with Youth For Christ, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity and YWAM.
  • What about camp ministries? Is there a Christian summer residential camp that is in need of funds for capital projects or to sponsor children in the summer?
  • What about your local Christian school? Do they need money for capital projects;  are they operating at a deficit?
  • Do you have a local Christian radio station? This isn’t limited to the “preacher programs,” the stations themselves often need additional support to pay staff and overhead.
  • Who is working with the poor in your community? Who provides meals, or transportation or moral support to people who are disadvantaged economically?
  • The very fact you’re reading a Christian blog means that means you love the written word. Consider those who are putting the scriptures in the hands of people who don’t have them, such as Wycliffe Bible Translators or the various Bible Societies.
  • And speaking of Bibles, this book is illegal in more than 50 countries.  Consider helping organizations that work with the persecuted church around the world.
  • You first considered your local church. Is there another church in your community that is doing good but struggling financially? This year we heard a story of one church putting another local church on their missions budget with a sizable donation. We’re all playing on the same team, and what a wonderful witness this is to those who think we’re competing.

Also, there may be a family in your community, or in your extended family, or someone you work with who cannot provide you with a tax receipt but needs a blessing this Christmas. Consider also directly donating to someone who is in need.

‘…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’  ~ Matthew 25:40