Something Jesus said in Matthew 11:4 stuck out to me. He says, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (KJV)
I feel like I’m on Sesame Street when I read this list, being asked which one of these things is different than the others. Look close. Isn’t it odd that on this list of trials and solutions, everyone gets their problem solved, except the poor. Hmph. The cadence of the passage would suggest something more like, “… and the poor are no longer poor,” or something like that. Especially after healing blindness, lameness (insert witty “lame” joke here), deafness and even *gasp* death. If He’s doing all that, surely he could perform a miracle to eliminate the poverty. Right?
But poverty elimination is not what he says. To the impoverished, Jesus simply preaches the “good news.” I think that’s fascinating.
Don’t worry, this is not a political post so everyone can slide their cuffs back over the branded donkey or elephant they have tattooed on their wrists. As much as I really want to go there right now. I won’t. Instead, let’s look a little more at the scriptures.
No one would argue against the importance Jesus placed (and asks us to place) on the poor. Time and time again we see Jesus interacting with the poor in his ministry. The real question is, who is the “the poor” really?
Most Americans these days are ready to give freely to those without. We live in an age of charity with a generation of people who shun the previous age of (separate) “holiness” in the name of helping our fellow man. Practicality over Spirituality. That’s the general sentiment. These days, donated time, money, talents, and other resources, are coming from Christians and non-Christians alike. So much so, that many a “good person” would rather be charitable than follow any sort of established religion.
The issue comes with the our very good intentioned, yet overly prioritized, idea of charity. The sort of philanthropy theology that is growing in our society sees the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:34-40 as the core to a charity based dogma. The verse says:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (KJV)
In essence, some believe charity is the key to the Christian “salvation” from eternal punishment. Many people have missed the point of the message altogether here. Salvation, or going to heaven, or being square with God does not hinge on the amount of charity we extend? That would be a works-based concept. We believe we are saved by grace. So then, how do we read this Matthew 25 passage. Well, the passage shows us there is no one who should be beyond our reach. No one to whom we will not go visit to share the “good news.” Charity is not the key to salvation. Grace is. And grace is the antithesis of our efforts. It nullifies whatever good or bad we have performed. Our charity is like monopoly money in God’s grace economy: an economy that counterfeits the perceived value we have of our “goodness” and “badness.”
Thus, true Christians who operate in the economy of grace, see the value of every man and woman, regardless of their financial or social status. True Christians extend the Godly currency of grace readily, and in plenty, to any and everyone they meet. This grace, and the worth it speaks into our lives and the lives of the “poor” is the “good news” Jesus preached about.
So again, I ask who is the poor?
If we really think about that passage we began with in Matthew 11:4-5, we can find the answer. If, indeed, Jesus fixed the problems of everyone else in the list, then maybe “the good news” was the answer to the problem of “being poor.” It’s just a thought. And if that’s the case, then “being poor” could mean much more than financial and social poverty. Being poor would simply mean being without “good news.” Being without grace.
And if that is true, then we can bring that definition to our current day situations quite nicely. Who are the poor among us now? Well, who needs the good news? Who are the forgotten and downtrodden?
I find it interesting that churches are so fond of helping the familiar “poor.” That is, churches are good for soup kitchens, aid to disaster charities, periodic house or public cleanup, even fundraising for charitable organizations. And don’t get me wrong, we should absolutely serve there. But what about the other “poor”: the homosexual community, the atheists, agnostics, and skeptics, the prostitutes and drug dealers, the emotionally bankrupt and the hopeless. These people are just as poor, and too often they go without receiving the good news of God’s grace. We must understand they are just as in need of hearing the gospel of grace as those who don’t know where there next meal will come from.
I think it’s time the Church realized this and acted on it. Who are our poor? We can ask it better. Who needs to hear the gospel, the good news of Jesus? It’s time we thought larger. Wider. So wide that we reach the edges and outskirts of our society, our country, our world. After all, that is our mandate, to go to all the world…
Which groups of people do you feel the Church most ignores when it comes to spreading the Gospel? Why do you think that is?
Latest posts by Antwuan Malone (see all)
- Courage in the Face of Persecution [sermon] - November 28, 2015
- 3 Strategies For Culture Change - October 28, 2015
- Four Lessons I’ve Learned From Serving In Young Adult Ministry - July 20, 2015