We Must Stop Rationalizing Away the Poor

The truth is that reading about the poor and needy can make a person, that has the comforts of this life, feel uncomfortable. Too often, instead of taking this discomfort and channeling it into constructive energy to help someone’s situation, we try to figure out ways to explain the plight of the poor so we can feel better about our own good fortune. These are often disguised in myths, generalizations and stereotypes about those in need. How many times have we heard, and perhaps even propagated, remarks like, “Those people are lazy”, “They don’t want to work.” “They are living large off of the welfare.” “It’s their own fault.” “They don’t want to change.” Or even worse, “They deserve what they get.”

The fact is, for most of the poor these stereotypes simply are not true! We need to look at the facts and then examine our hearts. We need to repent of our apathy and start to do something to change the plight of so many right here in our country.

Responding To A Great Need      

Jesus tells a moving story about a person who was robbed, wounded and left for dead on the road that led to Jericho. Both a Priest and Levite, when they saw the wounded man on the road, walked around him and kept going. They decided not to do anything. This story was told to shock and alarm us. It goes against everything we know about the love of God and how people that profess to know this love should act. We have similar experiences to the Priest and Levite that Jesus talked about. How many times have we gone to work, festivals or sporting events, regularly passing areas of the city that are underdeveloped, full of people in great need and yet we do nothing. Survey after survey point out that well over 70% of the people in churches listening to sermons every week are not involved in any ministry. The results go much lower if we ask for those involved in helping those in need outside the four walls of the church.  As Christians we often pride ourselves in following the tithe. But do we really understand what God is asking of us? In Deuteronomy 14 it says: 

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. ‘If there is a poor man among your brothers in any town of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.

‘Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought, ‘The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near’ so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

The Wounded On The Side Of The Road

Ron Snider, in his book Just Generosity, writes a powerful introduction about the plight of the average poor in America. He writes:

What would it be like to live as a family of four in the United States on $16,530 a year? That’s the poverty level in the richest nation on earth. 36 million people struggle to survive at or below this level.

Try to imagine what your family, or a family you know best, would need to give up to exist on $16,530 a year. Begin by selling your house and moving to a modest two-bedroom apartment ($525 a month including heat). No more study, recreation room, bedroom for each child, second bathroom, backyard, or porch. If you are willing to live in a lower-income, multiracial neighborhood, you might be able to buy a small house.

Next, sell all your cars. You don’t have a garage anyway. You can get around on public transportation, or perhaps you can afford an old car, if you have a friend who can make necessary repairs and you purchase only liability insurance. Either way, you will be able to spend only $45 a week on transportation.

Forget about being in fashion. New clothes each season are unthinkable; Nike sneakers are out of the question. If you visit the local thrift store for most things, buy sturdy shoes, and use winter coats for several years, you can probably get by on $380 per person a year.

You will no longer be able to afford to eat at restaurants. You will have to figure out how to avoid hunger and stay healthy on just a little more than $1 per meal per person.

No more regular phone calls to Grandma, other relatives, or friends in other cities. Your telephone budget is just $25 a month.

And be sure to turn off the lights when you leave a room because you have only $40 a month for all the utilities not included in your rent.

Let’s review:

Housing $6,300

Utilities $  780

Food $4,800

Transportation $2,340

Clothing $1,580

Social Security taxes $  788    

TOTAL (yearly) $16,528 

Please notice what the budget does not include: No household appliances, no vacations, no toiletries, no birthday or Christmas gifts, no recreation, no visits to the dentists, no private health insurance, no donations for church, no child care, no movies, no travel outside the city, no private music lessons, no sports equipment for the children.

Poor people, of course, do have some of these things. However unthinkable from a middle-class perspective, somehow they manage to spend less on some of the other items or receive help from family, friends or church.

This is what millions of our neighbors struggle with year after year with little hope for improvement. In addition to scraping by financially, many poor people face terrible schools, widespread crime, and a lack of quality health care. More than 43 million do not even have health insurance.

God commands us to be openhanded toward the poor and needy. Do we believe this? Is this part of our theology? Do we realize that there are broken and torn down neighborhoods in need of repair? When it comes to salvation and preaching the Gospel, we believe that “God so loved the world.” Then why is it when it comes to helping someone with the basics in life, we are slow to react? This is not what God wants. As we search the scriptures to find our responsibility to the poor, sick, suffering, and those unjustly treated we will see that, like with evangelism, God has told us to go into all the world and do something about it. Have you seen those, not that far from your home, that are suffering, struggling to barely get by, victims of crime and injustice, as people that Jesus loves? Do we hear Jesus say, “In as much as you cared for the least of these, you have cared for me?” Are we willing to say, “Here am I Lord, send me”? 

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