Blessed are the Poor

Over the years I have been involved with a group of people who are at the poorer end of society. Although not rich myself I have sometimes felt guilty about the level of financial resources I have available to me compared to others.
At times in my life I have struggled to balance budgets and even gone through periods where I have been under-employed. Sometimes this has been by choice as I have chosen to do voluntary work or study. Other times, in the early 1990’s I found it difficult to get full time employment due to a recession. During this period I admit to feeling sorry for myself and was very grateful to get back into full time employment.
But on the positive side I know I have the education, skills and health to earn a reasonable standard of living. Many of the people I have been involved with don’t have these options. They have health issues that keep them on a benefit or limit them to part-time work. For them being poor is not a temporary state of affairs, it is a lifestyle. From limited means they need to find accommodation, food, clothes and pay medical bills. Heating is often a luxury.
Compounding this problem can be addictions to cigarettes, alcohol and gambling. In some cases these addictions can lead to the dropping of basic essentials. I choose not to judge as I know how hard it is to give up these addictions. I don’t condone but I try to understand. Mental illness can make it difficult to stick to giving up behaviors.
Giving support to people can be tricky. It’s important to encourage people to do what they can for themselves. However we need to balance this with mercy. . In Luke 16 in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus the rich man had a good life on earth and did not take note on the poor man at his gate. After death while thirsty in Hades he asked for Lazarus (the poor man) to comfort him.

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. (NIV Luke 16:19-31).

I’m not sure about other implications of this passage but it’s clear that helping the poor is high on Jesus priorities.
The other thing that comes with poverty is powerlessness. This can be a subtle thing. Do we include the poor with problems in leadership? How important is it to us that the man with the nice voice but poor clothing joins in the worship team. Or are we more focused on image? Do we involve all members of the community in decision making? Do we listen to their concerns? Or do we take the attitude that we know best or worse that anything will do for them?
James says

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? ( James 2:1-13 NIV)

I don’t know if there are any easy answers to how we treat people who are poor. The reality in our society is many of those who are poor tend to have disabilities which mean to be included you do have to take special effort. Often they are not a glamorous cause. There is a certain appeal about a short term mission trip to India or visiting an inner city project in the United States. This is not a bad thing to do. But do we feel the same pull to deal with someone who has more mundane problems and at times can be difficult. These are the questions we need to ask ourselves if we are disciples of Jesus.
Janine Blackburn
Image: Marina Wajnsztejn Creative Commons Flickr
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