Last night I attended a photo exhibit called “Fighting for the Forgotten”, an event sponsored in conjunction with AmericanPoverty.org. Several photo journalists from around the country have been photographing the poor in America. The pictures were both sobering and heartbreaking. America is the richest nation in the world and has more churches and ministries than any other country. I discovered last night that I live in the 4th most affluent county in America (Who knew… and how the heck did they let me in?). Yet even in my county, the poverty rate is nearly 5% (source). In America the poverty rate is greater than 15% (source). By many estimates, the percentage of those living in poverty has already hit 20%; that’s one out of every 5 families that are living in, or very close to, poverty. How can we who claim to be followers of Christ sit on the sidelines and watch this happen? God forgive us for our apathy and hardened hearts when it comes to our response to the poor.
People in poverty are no different from you or me. The only thing we have that they don’t is a larger bank account. God loves each and every homeless or hurting individual exactly as much as He loves us. He longs to hold them and talk to them in the same way that He longs to hold and talk to us. We are blessed beyond compare and beyond explanation. God doesn’t play favorites. He hasn’t chosen some to live in poverty and some to live in plenty. He has chosen all to live in love, and He has chosen all to live in community, caring for the needs of one another. There are individuals in America today who preach what is often termed a “prosperity gospel”. They teach that God wants you to be wealthy, and that if we simply do what Jesus commands, we will be financially rich. Those who aren’t obviously aren’t yet right with God. Nothing could be further from Scriptural truth and it insults the poor that Jesus told us would always be among us. Christ taught that whatever we do for the poor, we do for Him. Jesus obviously did not come preaching a prosperity gospel. My point is that our culture, and even our churches, teaches us to look down on the poor. We have been conditioned to think of those in poverty as lazy, addicts, people far from God’s will.
Actually they are indeed far from God’s will, but not of their own doing (in most cases). God never wanted this for His children. He created them to live in perfect unity and fellowship with Him. We messed this up in the Garden of Eden, and we continue to mess it up today. We make bad choices, destructive decisions that lead to a downward spiral in our fallen world. Yet He still loves us and wants the best for us. He wants to reach out and help us, to walk with us. We are His hands that must reach out to the poor, and we are His feet that must walk with them through the hard times of their life. We are God’s people, Kingdom citizens called to care for the widow and the orphan, to feed the hungry and clothe those in need. The poor are not less than we are; they are greater than we are. Jesus proclaimed that the last will be first, and always gave special attention to the poor both in word and in deed.
It is our job, indeed our mission, to eradicate poverty. We are commanded to give to anyone in need. Don’t worry about tomorrow or think of setting something back for the future. The need is now; it’s all around us, and it is growing. One day we will have to give an account for how we utilized the resources God has given us. What will our excuse be then? Give out of your abundance; give out of your lack of abundance. Whatever you do, you must give; give of yourself, your time and your money. Poverty in our nation and throughout the world has reached staggering proportions. We cannot win a battle in which we will not engage. Don’t turn away from those in poverty. Don’t reject the call of Christ to care for the poor. Don’t keep the good news of His true Gospel to yourself. It has to start somewhere, it has to start some time, and it has to start with someone. Why not here, why not now, and why not you or me?