I recently wrote a column suggesting that as Christians we could do a better job finding ways to collectively provide assistance to the least of these among us. The responses were swift and angry. I was accused of distorting the Bible in order to advance a liberal socialist agenda. I thought I was just quoting Jesus.
I thought I was just quoting Jesus.
Then I wrote a column suggesting that the charitable impulse that appears each Christmas is an attitude that should characterize the Christian life year round.
The responses were swift and angry, again. This time I was accused of distorting the Bible in order to advance a liberal agenda that trapped the poor in cycles of poverty rather than actually helping them.
Again, I thought I was just quoting Jesus.
Why all this anger about helping the poor? Why are the least of these in our midst regularly singled out for scorn and blame?
Obviously some poverty is the result of poor decisions. There are those who do not handle their finances wisely or become involved in self destructive behaviors, and poverty is the result.
But some of the poor in our state and in our world are children. It’s not their fault that they live in Alabama’s Black Belt, or have mothers with no training and have to subsist on minimum wages. It’s not their fault that there is no health care for them. And it’s not their fault that the school they will eventually attend is so inadequately funded that their chance of getting a good education is all but null and void.
Certainly there are those who work the system in order to slide by on the good graces of others. They are able-bodied, but choose not to work, preferring for some unknown reason to live on the margins of society.
But some of the poor are elderly. They worked a lifetime earning meager wages and now barely survive on Social Security.
Some of the poor would go to work today, but there are no jobs where they live. There are pockets in Alabama, and in other parts of the country, where unemployment is in double digits. To sneer at these people and tell them they are lazy or useless is a level of cruelty difficult to understand.
And it is especially difficult to understand coming from Christians. Jesus said that we would one day be judged by how we treated the poor, the sick, the imprisoned and so on. You would think the fear of judgment alone would prod us to be more caring and compassionate to the less fortunate around us.
But Jesus also taught us to love our neighbors. Not just the neighbors that we like to love, but the neighbors who are in need. The Good Samaritan is our role model for how to treat those whose lives have been turned upside down by circumstances they have no control over.
Jesus also said that the poor would always be with us. Some have wanted to make this mean that Jesus was cynical about ending poverty, but that’s not the case. He was quoting Deuteronomy 15 where it reads, “since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
Society at large may harbor negative attitudes toward the poor in our midst, but followers of Jesus do not have the luxury of such feelings.
Of course, I’m just quoting Jesus, again.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.