3 things Jesus knew about poverty
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. And 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 revealed by what he said to a wealthy young man:
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21; see 19:16–30 ESV).
The man walks away sorrowful. Jesus then says one of his most famous teachings:
“Truly I say to you that with difficulty a rich person will enter into the kingdom of heaven! And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23–24).
Jesus’ disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looks at them and says: “With human beings 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.
And 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, someone [the rich young man] came up to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do so that I will have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why are you asking me about what is good? There is one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments!’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘Do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and your mother, and love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have observed. What do I still lack?’” (Matthew 19:16–21).
Jesus is clearly frustrated and perhaps even offended: “Why are you asking me about what 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 also asked another question that he asks: “Which [commandments]?” Jesus cites to the man several of the Ten Commandments, selecting the ones which relate more to how God calls people to live with each other. In answering the rich young man in this way, he is basically saying, “Keep all of The Commandments.” 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 us — keep us from fully experiencing the blessings of God.
But do not fear, fret, or worry. Instead, pray. Remember:
“With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
What Jesus Would Say to Us Today
Put simply, when we apply Jesus’ sayings today, they look like withdrawing from any relationship, occupation, event, or thing that stands between us and following Jesus — permitted that we can do so while still honoring the commandments Jesus tells the rich young man to keep:
“Do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and your mother, and love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 19:18–19).
Jesus has called us to join him in His work — to believe in it with all we have. The cost may be hard to bear or understand at times, but when it’s put in the perspective of all that Christ has done for us — dying for our sins — it seems like very little.
Jesus’ Currency and “Owning” the Problems of Poverty
The currency of Jesus’ kingdom is different than ours. Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice and His currency is love. For Jesus, belief and actions are one and the same — you cannot have one without the other.
The more I reflect on the problem of poverty — and what Jesus had to say about it — the more I realise that we own the problems of the impoverished as much as they do. Our inactions have created many of them. All of us are at fault for the state of our world. But we can also join Jesus in changing the state of our world.
If Jesus believed that belief is about action, why don’t we? Why have we not dedicated ourselves to bringing true discipleship and love to others, when it’s what Christ told us to do (see John 13:31-35; 15:9-17)? What good is belief without it offering true hope?
God has asked us to demonstrate our belief by bringing good news to those who feel hopeless. We are called to drop everything for Him—what is He calling you to drop for Him? This is Jesus’ view of the economy. He envisions what the world could look like and calls us to join God in the process of making that vision a reality. It’s about exchanging the currencies of this world for the currency of love.
An adapted/modified version of this article was originally published by “on faith”/”faith street” as “Five Sayings of the Homeless Jesus.”
John D. Barry is the CEO and Founder of Jesus’ Economy, dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Because of John’s belief that business can also transform lives, Jesus’ Economy also provides an online fair trade shop. He is currently leading Jesus’ Economy efforts to Renew Bihar, India—one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus.
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