When Jesus came to the world, He had a unique ability to influence and be welcomed into all social classes. He was a rabbi, a prophet, He was honored as a teacher and thus people were drawn to Him from all walks of life. It was common practice in those days for people to find a teacher or leader and “follow” them – literally going with them and absorbing everything that they had to say as they went through daily life. Thus, Jesus having twelve disciples who accompanied Him everywhere, everyday was not unheard of. And while it was also culturally normal for people to welcome travelers and teachers into their homes, Jesus had a unique affiliation and disposition towards the poor. Jesus pointed this out in His own life,
Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
– Matt 8.20
He never owned a house or made for Himself a place in this Earth. He traveled and stayed with people as the welcomed Him. But not only did He live as a nomad, of sorts, He also spoke boldly about our responsibility towards the poor.
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
– Matt 19.21
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recover of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed…”
– Luke 4.18
“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
– Luke 4.13-14
Jesus associated with the poor, cared for them, fed them and healed them, and also commanded the Church to take care of them. James, the brother of Jesus, taught this sobering truth:
“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
– James 1.27
When was the last time you visited and took care of the widows and orphans, when you fed and clothed the poor?
Now, Scripture is also clear that a person must be willing to work for his wages:
“For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”
– 2 Thess 3.10
What that means is that simply throwing a few dollars at a beggar, or buying one meal is not what Jesus meant by caring for the poor. We should provide food and clothing for those who are unable to work to buy it on their own – like the widows and orphans. But for the capable, we – as Christians – are commanded to help them get on their feet and help them find work. Are there any business owners in your congregation? Any job placement specialists? Does your Church building have room where you could house those who cannot afford housing, while they go out and find jobs? We are not to encourage and enable begging, we are to care for them like we would care for ourselves: get them established to work and earn their livelihood.
Jesus gave a terrifying profession over proclaiming believers in their relationship to the poor:
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine,even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not fntake care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”
– Matt 25.24-45
We must care for the poor, in a holistic way, in order to be obedient to Christ. If we do not, then Christ says we have equally ignored Him.
So let us examine our hearts and our priorities as a Church. When we give our tithe, it is brought into the storehouse of the Church for the work of God. Will it serve the poor and honor the King to build a bigger building and outfit it more stylishly – or will it serve the poor and honor the king to develop a halfway house where we help establish the poor in our community into jobs where they can get back on their feet? Let us check our priorities and weigh them against Scripture – not what all of the churches around us are doing. Let’s dare to be obedient. Dare to be different. Let’s get our hands dirty.