Poverty Line


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, 2 Chronicles 6:32-7:7, James 2:1-13, Mark 14:53-65

The 2017 Federal Poverty Level – a factor in qualifying for some federal benefits – is $12,060 for an individual, and $24,600 for a family of four. We often call this threshold the Poverty Line.

Unfortunately many people make a host of assumptions based on a person or family’s financial position relative to the Poverty Line, which tells us one and exactly one thing. Assumptions multiply if people use the benefits available to them. Somehow the American Dream – and its bastard child the Prosperity Gospel – have managed to frame poverty as a moral failing, despite Christ’s consistent solidarity with the poor.

Jesus talked a lot about the poor. More importantly, he talked to and with the poor, assuring them their circumstances did not reflect God’s love for them. As Christianity gained favor with the affluent, the church found it necessary to counsel those who carried biases about the poor into their faith. In his epistle James wrote:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Today’s judgments and evil thoughts are more subtle. Our attitude toward charity waxes and wanes according to our judgment of whether people in need are deserving or undeserving. Somehow their decisions and actions seem to warrant more scrutiny than our own. We mask the stinginess of our hearts and wallets behind otherwise noble concepts like stewardship and accountability.

Jesus didn’t make distinctions among people in need based on their worthiness. As Paul reminds us in Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Perhaps the biggest mistake we make when talking or thinking about the poor – is thinking of them as “the poor.” To follow Christ is to be a servant to all; there’s no service in washing clean feet.

Additional Reading:
For more thoughts on today’s scripture from James, see Solidarity.

Comfort: Poverty is not a sign of God’s disfavor. 

Challenge: Pay attention to what aspects of life and society unnecessarily favor people of greater means over people of lesser means.

Prayer: Gracious God, teach me to see all persons as you do. Amen. 

Discussion: What are the differences and similarities between tackling poverty on a national or global scale, and loving the poor on a personal level?

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