Be careful how you speak about poor people. Be careful what you think of them and how you regard them.
For one thing, God pays attention to how others treat them. Now, that is usually a trigger for us rich people. Does that imply God plays favorites? No, it’s not that the rich are less important to the Lord. The poor, though, are the ones who tend to get forgotten, abused and taken advantage of.
For sure, American poor means something different than in other parts of the world. Pan out over more of history and American poor doesn’t look all that bad, actually. So, it can be hard for us to come to terms with scripture’s attention to people we consider poor.
So hard, in fact, we will rationalize every reason we have for thinking of them the way we do. The poor, then, are lazy. They just want people to give them stuff. Why don’t they work more? What they need to do is pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
By the way, that may have been an idiom first used to signify trying to “do something completely absurd” or impossible.
This is about the time in the conversation where someone informs me that people abuse the system, so to speak. They take advantage of others’ generosity. Of course, I agree. There are people like that. What percentage of the poor do you think that describes? And why do we tend to criticize poor people who do that, but accept rich people doing it as just “the way it is”?
I’ve had the fortune of serving two consecutive churches that have hosted a food pantry. One is monthly. The other was weekly. I have in mind one time I saw a family take from what we gave them to give to another family that, for whatever reason, didn’t get as much food that time. It comes to mind because it was the first time I witnessed it. I’ve seen that play out numerous times since.
The poor are not what some people make them out to be.
All that to say, be careful how you treat the poor. Proverbs 29:14 says, “If a king judges the poor with equity, his throne will be established forever.” The problem is, of course, the poor among us are easy to dismiss. We can get away with wronging them. What are they going to do about it?
That explains part of God’s heart for the poor.
Those who have known God’s grace cannot stand to see the poor mistreated or maligned. We acknowledge the systems actively working to keep some people poor. That becomes part of our prophetic witness as God’s church. Some may think that is a recent advancement of certain church traditions.
It is not. In fact, the way the American church tends to ignore social ills and the plight of the poor is quite bizarre to the rest of Christianity, both modern and ancient.
Read the Corinthians letters, for example. The rich were excluding the poor in worship and ministry. Paul recognized how antithetical that was to the gospel of Jesus. That mirrored society’s hierarchal standards. There’s no room in the church for that.
Do you want to live a righteous life? Consider this proverb that highlights an important way to do that. It’s something we often discount: The righteous know the rights of the poor (Proverbs 29:7). What are we rich people going to do with that knowledge?