I know, I know. Not another plea or rail about poverty. But wait! Read it anyway. You might discover something about yourself.
It’s now the 21st century and the church’s urgent task is to make sense of what we understand about poverty and what the subsequent demands on this new understanding must become. Let me be a bit blunt. It doesn’t mean we need to take more short-term missions trips. Most of us have already been exposed to enough oppression and poverty around the world, if not in our own communities. We go to the other side of the world to serve the poor, and yet we offer our own communities….church services.
The questions are: Have we done anything about oppression and poverty? Have we taken responsibility for what we have already seen and heard? Is our exposure without action any different than those whom the apostle James chastises: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is [that kind of faith]?” (James 2:15-16, TNIV) Too many of us want extreme exposure without having to face the extreme responsibilities of our responses and the hard questions of accountability that need to accompany these endeavors.
Quoting scriptures that we will always have the poor with us just does not hold water.
We must allow our lives to be forever changed by the presence of poverty in our world. As we consider what the end of suffering summons us to, we start with the affirmation that unjust poverty and suffering are an assault on the image of God. Every victim of poverty and every human being who unjustly suffers are created in God’s image. And that image is attacked when one’s dignity and identity are stolen. We must work to reclaim their identities as a testimony to their dignity as God’s children.
Secondly, each victim of poverty is, at the very least, theologically our neighbor, and in many cases our sister or brother. Jesus had much to say about how we should relate to our neighbors and sisters and brothers.
Finally, we need to clothe ourselves in a spirit of humility and submission by recognizing and affirming that we desperately need the poor. Their circumstances remind us of our own poverty, our need for grace and rescue, and Christ’s own example of becoming poor for our sake. We truly work out our salvation among the poor. Indeed, as Mother Teresa used to tell us, “we need the poor more than the poor need us.”
1. What forms of oppression and poverty are taking place in your own city?
2. Are there any ways that your lifestyle, habits, and actions potentially contribute to the systems that create this oppression and poverty?