Poverty of Ideas

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Proverbs 17:1-20, 1 Timothy 3:1-16, Matthew 12:43-50


Americans have a schizophrenic attitude toward people living in poverty. On one hand we canonize Mother Theresa for her work with the poor, and missionaries who feed starving Ethiopian children. On the other, we tend to think less charitably of the poor at home, and frequently require them to justify their poverty because we can’t stand the idea that someone somewhere is taking advantage of the “system.” Among Christians and nonbelievers alike, the poor are too often vilified rather than loved, torn apart rather than restored.

Do we honestly believe poor people “over there” are somehow different from or more deserving than people sleeping under bridges in Chicago? Poverty is a product of injustice and bad luck. America may have more resources and opportunity than many nations, but we can’t ignore the social, political, and economic structures that intentionally or unintentionally conspire against the poor. Jesus may have pointed that out once or twice.

We all know examples of people who’ve risen above – maybe we’ve done it ourselves – but lifting oneself out of poverty, especially generational poverty, usually requires exceptional talent. Hard work alone does not guarantee success. Your able body, sound mind, ethnicity, gender, and looks are all matters of chance helping or hindering  you. People who possess socially favorable variations of these traits have the opportunity to earn more, but do they inherently deserve more?

We treat intelligence and strength – and the success they engender – as virtues, but they are not something we choose; they are unearned gifts God has entrusted to us. Aren’t they meant to serve more than our bank accounts? Whether comfortable or afflicted, we should all do our fair share, but Christ taught if we have two coats and our neighbor has none, we should give them one. How often do we instead grill them about why they are too irresponsible to have a coat?

Who among us dares volunteer to tell Jesus we know who is deserving and undeserving, and the poor but unexceptional just don’t make the cut? Yet we do that with our votes and checkbooks every day.

The problem of poverty is complex, but the solution is never to dismiss poor people as weak or lazy. Both Old and New Testament scriptures have very clear positions on loving the poor. Why look for so many reasons not to?

Comfort: Whatever your financial or social status, in God’s eyes and heart you are equal to all His children.

Challenge: Examine what biases, hidden or overt, you might have against the poor. How do you think Christ would respond?

Prayer: God of love, open my heart to those in need. Amen.

Discussion: In what ways do you think America effectively works to alleviate poverty? In what ways is it ineffective?

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2 thoughts on “Poverty of Ideas

  1. Good post, brother. I happen to come from a very poor upbringing. I was one of the ones who pretty much wrested myself out of it by scrambling and hard work. I also happen to be pretty conservative in my political and economic views. I am also very disturbed by the callousness I see among folks of my bent towards the poor and down and out. We do seem to live in abject fear that somebody will get over on us or take advantage. On the first hand to step back, I am not so much of a fan of the endemic welfare state we have in places. So, what’s the solution? Beats me really, but I can say a good start would be for Christians to actually reach out and maybe just help change ONE life. It’s just a truth that some folks can’t escape the situation they are trapped in; for some it’s so bad they don’t even realize things could actually be different. It takes effort, and is an investment for people to actually do something concrete to help another out of a place they won’t ever escape on their own. Just my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the very thoughtful comments. I tend to be more politically liberal, but any more I think politics just get in the way of solutions. We get so entrenched in making everything partisan that we can’t find a way to agree on the loving, common sense approaches. If more people, including Christians, could just start by agreeing the enemies are poverty and injustice – and not the “other side” (or who we imagine “them” to be) maybe we could get somewhere. God bless!

      Liked by 1 person

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