One familiar New Testament verse is from Jesus’ sermon we call the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
The other Bible verse about poor people we know is what Jesus told the disciples, when they protested that someone was spending wealth on him that could be used to serve the poor:
“The poor you will always have with you” (quoted with slight variations in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8).
So we’re pretty prone to think that leaving people in poverty is okay, even spiritually advantageous, as far as Jesus is concerned. Not our problem.
We don’t know that Jesus was referencing Old Testament teaching when he says that there would always be poor in the land, nor do we have any sense how ambiguous that teaching is about our own integrity in the face of wealth.
Here are the Bible verses about poor people from Deuteronomy that Jesus is referencing:
- 4 ” … there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,
- 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.
- 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised …
- 7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them.
- 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. …
- 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart;
- then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.
- 11 There will always be poor people in the land.
- Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:4-11)
What I see here is that there is no need for there to be any people in poverty, because God is going to bless God’s people so richly if we — as a people — obey all of God’s commands. One of those commands is to help people in need. But at the same time, God acknowledges, “there will always be poor”.
I’m not sure quite how to take this.
- Does it mean that God recognizes in advance that the people of God will be disobedient when it comes to managing the wealth God provides us, and as a result we will leave people in need in spite of God’s blessings to us?
- Or does it mean that God will allow some people to be in need while others are wealthy so that God’s people can demonstrate the wonders of God’s ways by constantly helping people in need with the resources God gives? This would be like the New Testament story where a man is born blind in order that the works of God might be made known when he is healed (John 9).
How do you read this portion of God’s Word? Looking forward to your Biblical perspectives!