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A Dual Approach for Christians to Make a Difference to the Poor

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Jesus’ declaration of his criteria for judgment is found in Matthew 24:40: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.”

He ran into troubles and opposition from the established religious and political leaders due in large part to his partiality to the tradition of the prophets of old.

The “establishment” tends to run to and hide behind the law, while the prophets challenge and bring to light the injustices often perpetrated against the “least,” the poor and the powerless.

There are over 2,000 verses in both testaments of the Bible that directly or indirectly address faith expectations from God to attend to the needs of the poor and powerless.

There is a stream of interpretation that tries to “strain at a gnat,” saying that the prophetic challenges apply only to the individual believer, and not to leaders of faith and the government. One only has to begin reading the prophets to realize such is poor theology.

Jesus called his followers to establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He laid out his criteria for that kingdom; his concern for the poor, marginalized and the powerless is clear.

Take Amos as one example from the Hebrew Bible. Here is what he had to say to the leaders of Israel:

  • “This is what the Lord says: ‘For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6).
  • “They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed” (Amos 2:7a).
  • “They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god, they drink wine taken as fines” (Amos 2:8b).

Amos is holding accountable business, government and even faith leaders.

On Sunday, Nov. 17, Protestant churches should consider joining our Catholic sisters and brothers in observing World Day of the Poor.

Doing so is a great way to raise awareness related to poverty, but how do we as Jesus followers actually make a difference among our poor neighbors? A two-pronged approach is essential.

First, there are practical things that Jesus laid out in Matthew 25: Give food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, welcome for the stranger, cover for the bare and exposed, and comfort for the sick and oppressed.

Soup kitchens, food pantries and clothing closets are good, practical ways many churches address those tangible needs.

Working with local refugee agencies and ministries, along with discovering neighborhoods of migrants and various ethnicities, is a great way to begin to address the “welcome.”

More important, church should be such a welcoming place. Invite, welcome, embrace, involve, even celebrate all those who might be different.

The second emphasis needs to be advocacy. Addressing the immediate need is essential. However, addressing the root causes of injustice and need in our communities is also essential. Yes, it is a justice issue.

Again, from Amos: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:25).

Food, water, hospitality, compassion and concern are not only faith issues, they are justice issues.

Even our own founding documents in the United States indicate such life necessities are not privileges only for the wealthy, but are rights for everyone, perhaps especially for the poor.

Matthew 25:40, as read in The Message translation, uses “overlooked” for “the least.” That emphasizes the justice issue of being poor and marginalized.

When the poor and powerless are “overlooked,” they tend to be “trampled … as on the dust of the ground” (Amos 2). That is a justice issue.

It requires people of faith to stand and demand justice for all of our neighbors. After all, Jesus also said in the Sermon on the Mount that treating others as we want to be treated sums up the Prophets and the Law.

As we observe the World Day of the Poor, may we commit to attending to the immediate needs of our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.

But, may we also commit to addressing the justice issues that lead to poverty, to hunger, to limited access to clean water.

May we be communities of welcome and safety. May the sick and the oppressed receive comfort.

Go, do, be. Go with good news of food, clean water, welcome, protection and cover, comfort and compassion. Do justice, speak up, advocate, stand up for. Be the Christ the world needs to know.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for World Day of the Poor 2019. The previous articles are:

Pope: Economic Inequality Largely Unchanged Since Biblical Times | EthicsDaily.com Staff

Ending Poverty Isn’t Priority for Far Too Many Christians | William Brackney

GI Bill’s Benefits Didn’t Include Many African American Vets | Hannah McMahan

John Daugherty

John Daugherty is the Director of Operations with Operation Inasmuch, Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee, equipping churches to serve their communities through compassion ministry.