|A depiction of cross references in the Bible|
In our blog, up to this point, we have travelled a wide breadth of Scripture.
At the very beginning, creation itself, we found that God chose humanity, not because of their glory, but because of their weakness, compared to the other “gods” He had as options to rule the world. We also looked at how God chose the weak and helpless to uphold so that He could be seen as the One with strength. God’s help, we saw in Psalm 146 is for all the poor, to grant them food and to deliver them from oppression. And from Samuel’s mother, Hannah, we learned how it is God’s plan to raise the poor from the dust to no smaller place than the top of the heap of humanity. And, finally, we saw how Jesus actually chose the poor to make up his school, as an indicator of who would enter into God’s kingdom. The anawim are the apple of God’s eye, the focus of His salvation.
|What Jesus didn't say|
Yet we look at our churches today, and they don’t reflect God’s vision in this way. In many ways, we indicate that the poor are separated from God’s people, not the heart of it. In many churches, they see a “spirit of poverty” as a form of oppression. Of course, poverty is a limitation, a difficulty, but it is just as much a symbol of blessing as it is a kind of oppression. In testimonies and stories of the church, we talk about poverty as something we used to have, but have been delivered from. This implies that God’s true people aren’t people burdened by poverty. It has been an assumption and often a bold theological point that God’s blessing and sign of approval is to be wealthy or at least living a middle class lifestyle. Yet Jesus declared the poor to be blessed and to be God’s people.
The church is a culture as well as a spiritual people. And the culture of 99 percent of American churches is the culture of the middle class who have the next level in the social order as their goal. Our church leaders usually want to fill their churches with suburbanites instead of single moms with drug babies.
The poorest of the poor are not found to darken our door—the homeless, mentally ill, panhandlers, illegal immigrants, itinerant farm workers, sufferers from AIDS. And this is not because we do not welcome them. It is because they see the culture of the church as being different from the culture that they live with. To be a part of the church, for them is to be converted, not to a spiritual reality, but a social and ethical system which is unknown to them.
When our churches do talk about the poor, it is about ministry ‘to’ the poor, not being ‘of’ the poor. We are seen as the people who are wealthy who need to assist, help, save, deliver, feed, clothe or house the poor. Even in this, the poor are on the outside of the church and the church is “reaching out” to them. Why? Because in our hearts, we know that we don’t commune with the poor. They aren’t a part of us.
The religion that began as a gathering of the poor, now finds itself locked out of the blessing God offers to the poor. We are outside of many of the promises of Jesus because, frankly, we don’t need them. We pray the Lord’s prayer regularly, but we don’t really mean that we want God’s kingdom to come, because that would mean that the economics and society that our current salvation is found would have to be set aside. We don’t really need to pray for our daily bread because we have our refrigerators full of this month’s food. And, often, we don’t see God as our deliverer, because we have so many resources at our fingertips.
We need to seriously consider the option that our churches feel empty of the Spirit, seem devoid of life, have pews filled with air more than bodies because we have stopped taking God seriously as a means of salvation. If we refuse poverty, how will God gain the glory of delivering the poor? If we no longer are the needy, then how will God grant our needs? Yes, we are responsible, we are strong, we care for those we have to take of. But will God be found among a people who speak His glory, but never reach out for it, never live it out in their lives?