Who are the poor (and how do they fit in to the Good News)?

To begin with, let us be clear on why we are asking the question. The Good News is for all of humanity. Healing, transformation, redemption: these things are for everyone. However, righteousness, justice, and peace are three ideals that are at the center of the will of God. These ideals have very social and economic facets.

Throughout Scripture, we see God calling the people to live in righteousness, justice, and peace. Throughout Scripture, we also see God calling the people to look out for the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger in their midst—for the marginalized, weak, and vulnerable. There is a startling amount of recurrences of these words and concepts in the Bible. I think these two expectations (of living in righteousness and the like and of looking out for the marginalized) are directly related. I do not think that we can be people of justice (and thus holiness) without looking out for the weak neighbor among us. We cannot be righteous without addressing the social pain and suffering that is around us and that we often participate in. We cannot be people of peace by ignoring the lack of peace and wholeness around us. There is no such thing as neutral non-participation in social issues.

We have heard it said that God “has concern” or has a “preferential option” for the poor. I believe that we must see this idea of God’s concern for the poor in the context of God’s concern for righteousness, justice, and peace for all of Creation. We believe that God is a God of justice and the like, and in this context, I believe that God’s heart is most broken in those places where the world is most broken.

Further, we believe that God calls the world to imitate and implement these lofty ideas. We believe that God is leading the world toward a New Creation—a new heaven and a new earth—where there will be no more suffering, no more mourning or crying or pain or death (Rev. 21:4).

In the meantime, however, as God shapes His people and transforms the world, the pursuit of justice, righteousness, and peace entails that God’s heart—and thus ours—be broken by those who are broken by injustice and its cousins. In a world where millions die of starvation while thousands over-eat, God regards the weaker and suffering one—seeing their groaning and calling the rest of us to respond in righteousness, justice, peace, and love for our neighbor. Hear the words of the martyred Oscar Romero, as he explains:

    “When we say ‘for the poor,’ we do not take sides with one social class, please     note. What we do…is invite all social classes, rich and poor, without distinction, saying to everyone: ‘Let us take seriously the cause of the poor as though it were our very own—indeed, as what it really is, the cause of Jesus Christ, who on the final judgment day will call to salvation those who treated the poor with faith in him: ‘Whatever you did to one of these poor ones…you did to me'” (Mt. 25:40).

God regards the lives of the poor to such an extent that He identifies Himself with them. The Good News is not different for the poor, but it is sure to include and look out for them in a world that refuses to. Further, it seeks to transform the circumstances that lead to brokenness.

Additionally, our question comes from Lk. 4:18, where Christ (quoting Isa. 61:1f) proclaims that he has been “anointed to preach good news to the poor.” This has long been seen and discussed as “the mission statement” of Christ, as he announces his ministry to the world. Perhaps it should catch our attention then…

So, who are “the poor”?

Strictly speaking, “the poor” are those who are in need. I believe we know who these people are. We see them. We are convicted by them. We do not need scholarship to try to re-define the word in order to justify our inaction or assuage our guilt. They are our neighbors who are hungry, who are without a place to stay, a coat for warmth, without…

They are the strangers who are taken advantage of, who have few options, who have no voice or power in society, who have their decisions made for them, who are dependent on others for their basic needs, who lack…

They are the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the unclothed, the sick, and the imprisoned (Mt. 25:31f). They are the widow and the fatherless (Duet. 10:18). They are the captive, the blind, and the oppressed (Lk. 4:18).

    I think it is these that Christ has come to preach Good News to.

These definitions of “poor” point to a lack of something. Some point to a relational lack, others a physical limitation. Some point to a lack of power to control decisions and circumstances. (Often times, the three are not separated.) But we must recognize that there is also a broader sense of the concept of “the poor.” We must—if we are to truly love and have compassion—recognize, realize, that we are all poor.

This is not to trivialize, negate, or misunderstand the real and crushing poverty of our neighbors who do not have the basic necessities of life or many options to change their lot. Please do not misunderstand. But there is a real sense in which we are all poor, though it is easier to hide such poverty when money allows you to surround yourself with privacy, people, and things. Perhaps we are all poor. Without and lacking wholeness.

Though I have not wanted for need in my life, there is a real sense in which I am poor. Honestly, it has taken relationships with my neighbors who struggle financially to reveal this truth to me. It has taken the vibrant life, the generosity, and the true faith of my neighbors—of “the poor”—to reveal to me that my wealth inhibits life, inhibits generosity, and inhibits faith.

I strongly believe that I am not alone in this and that we all suffer from a spiritual poverty, from broken relationships, and from inner woundedness that keep us from living fully and loving truly. I do not want to over-spiritualize “poverty,” but in a broken world where injustice, unrighteousness, and the lack of peace and wholeness abound, there is Good News for the meek, the mourning, the broken-hearted, and the poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3-12).

My friend, Chris Linscott says that, “The extent to which we embrace our own poverty is the extent that we experience the Kingdom of God.” We must recognize that there is a real poverty that exists in all of us—that we are all yearning for the Good News of transformation and healing. It is the work of humility and vulnerability to admit and embrace such weakness.

[1] Oscar Romero, “The Violence of Love,” p177.

[1] Though the telling of it ought to be. 

–Cory Blackwell

1 Comment

Filed under Food for thought

One response to “Who are the poor (and how do they fit in to the Good News)?

  1. Lyn Richard

    Thanks for these words. I have thought about them a lot and agree with your statement, “I believe that God’s heart is most broken in those places where the world is most broken.” Poverty is indeed debilitating and I do not know what to do about it. However, coming to terms with my own poverty (fear, relational, experiential…) may make it easier to approach and understand another person’s poverty. This is a thought that will go with me and perhaps I can use as a filter as I encounter poverty in the future.

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