Friday, August 5, 2016

Jesus the Strategist

In general, the church's strategy to deal with poverty is twofold:

First, give poor people food and clothing.  That'll help them live another day.

Second, teach poor people the gospel, which will cleanse them from their sin.  That'll help them deal with their setbacks and get on the right track in life, so not be poor anymore.

There are a number of wrong assumptions that come up from this approach to poverty.
-That the poor are poor because of individual sin
-That the poor have less of Jesus than the middle class do
-That food and clothing is sufficient to meet people's needs
-That relief is the kind of direct help that is good enough.

The answer

Jesus' answer to poverty was a multi-faceted approach.

1. Healing
Jesus didn't just feed and clothe people, although he certainly did that.  He listened to desperate people, discovered their needs and used what resources he had to meet them.  This was a variety of things-- healing blind eyes, feeding poor, paying other's taxes, raising the dead, offering forgiveness of sins and more.  Jesus didn't come to the poor assuming he knew what they needed.  He heard their needs from their own lips.  That was his system of relief?

2. Ending Systemic Poverty
Jesus publicly spoke against the systems, political and religious, that kept people poor.  He launched a protest against the system of the Temple for keeping out the women and the Gentiles. And then he embarked on a program to undermine systemic poverty in his nation.  His strategy was to be executed although an innocent man, to plead his case before God and then to get the poverty pimps out of power.  His plan was shown to be approved by the resurrection.  And the systems were ousted by 70AD.

3. Create Community
Jesus' third strategy was to create a religious community that focused as much on helping the poor as they did on worship.  The primary economic action of the church was providing for the poor, not only for their own community, but for people in need around them.  The church leadership were assisted only if they were poor-- if they could provide for themselves then they would.  So
me of the more wealthy community members provided their own houses for meeting spaces.  But almost all money given to the church was used for programs for the poor.  This approach came from Jesus' teachings.

The strategy of the church concerning poverty is far removed from Jesus' approach, except for some Christian organizations (Mennonite Central Committee is happily one of the exceptions).  But when congregations deal with poverty in their communities, this three-pronged approach of Jesus is far from their minds.  There is much hand-wriging and perhaps a ministry to the poor that barely hangs on.  I challenge churches to consider a strategy to seriously make an attempt to undermine poverty in their communities.

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