What Jesus Really Said about Poverty

by John Barry

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In Jesus, God came as a poor man, lived as a poor man, and died as a poor man. He is good news to the poor. As such, Jesus cared deeply about the impoverished.

Being What We Believe
What we do with our beliefs is as important to Jesus as what we believe. Jesus is about complete commitment to loving him and others. Jesus loves belief-filled actions, as his saying to a wealthy young man shows:
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21; see 19:16–30). The man walks away sorrowful. Jesus then says his famous:
….Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23–24).

Jesus’ disciples then ask, “….they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25–26). Jesus is not suggesting it is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, or be saved—He is saying it is only possible with God. For God to enter a person’s life they must be open to Him entering.
Many of us are just like the rich young man. Out of one side of our mouth we speak allegiance to Jesus, but out of the other side we’re speaking allegiance to the trappings of wealth. I know, because the rich young man asks the same questions I would ask. Look at the events that prompted Jesus to make his statement about the wealthy:
“And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:16–21).

Jesus is possibly frustrated and perhaps even offended: “Why are you asking me about who is good?” The man is asking the wrong question. He doesn’t ask how he can follow Jesus, or what it means to be a disciple—or what good thing he can do for the world on behalf of a good God. He asks, “What must I do so that I will have eternal life?” If we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t that the question many of us are asking God today? Jesus is unsatisfied with that question.
Eternal life (salvation) is God’s great gift, but it’s meant to be a gift that prompts action. It is meant to give us purpose.
When I was confronted with the reality of the story of the rich young man, I again asked another question that he asks: “Which commandments?” Jesus cites to the man all the relational Ten Commandments, and in doing so, basically implies, “All of them.” The man tells Jesus he has observed these and then asks, “What do I lack?” It is this question that gets to the root of the issue. Jesus tells the man that he lacks self-sacrifice for others—he lacks giving to the extent that it is painful to him. He lacks an ability to put aside his wealth for the sake of the gospel. Wealth is meant to bless others—plain and simple (see Genesis 12:1–3 for an example). It is not for hording, and it will—if not given up, when God prompts you—keep you from fully experiencing the blessings of God.

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