In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
There are several indicators of practical wisdom in this one verse from the Book of the Acts.
- Helping the weak is something that we learn to do and fashion together as community. It’s not just individual choice. Christian community first shaped itself to be in the world–helping the weak. That is revolutionary and prophetic to American culture where we shame, deplore, castigate, blame and despise anyone who appears to be weak in any way.
- Community shaping itself to help the weak is the living memory of Jesus. A direct claim. We take this posture toward the weak as a direct extension of Jesus himself. Disdain for the weak is anti-Christ.
- The terms are simple. Giving is better than receiving. No conditions like: as long as I like the people I give to; they aren’t lazy; they are “our kind;” I know they will appreciate what I give.
Help the weak. Giving is good.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
If one’s religion is based on the scriptures of the Judeo-Christian bible, this is a very strong statement. Ask most Christians what items would be included in making their religion pure and undefiled as far as God is concerned. I suspect there would be a great deal of talk about beliefs. You have to believe X. You have to pray Y. You have to confess Z.
What about taking care of orphans and widows? That’s nice for those who feel called to do that sort of thing–I’ve been told.
That’s not the Word found here. The Word found here says that how one devotes oneself to those in need is the substance of pure and undefiled religion before God, the Father.
We won’t even talk about what it means to despise, neglect and abuse the poor.
If you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
Let’s talk about being “great again.” Many who cherish these scriptures have bought the notion that we are not great, that we used to be great and that we need to be great again.
Have we voted on a huge national spending program to assure that everyone has enough food and shelter, that all who live in our borders are welcome and safe, and that everyone has a good job paying a living wage?
Isn’t that what the prophet is telling us? Pour yourselves out for the hungry and the afflicted. Did you know that we have one of the highest child poverty rates in the modern world? Almost 25% of our children live in poverty, and right now 50% of all children in the US are delivered via Medicaid.
The mark of great people, and hence, a great nation, is its willingness to pour itself out for the hungry and the afflicted. It’s an easy test. We are failing.
Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
It is only a cheap religion that turns this into “give money to the poor so that you can get rich.” Anyone who buys into that perversion of wisdom really impoverishes his or her own soul. And isn’t that the point?
If I give money to the poor with the thought that this will cause God to make me rich, I am not seeing the poor. For that matter, I am not seeing God, either. I’ve turned God into a giant cosmic slot machine that pays off a big win if I give to the poor.
These Proverbs are generally one liners without context. We can imagine. Giving to the poor does not diminish me because I have opened my life to humanity. When I hide my eyes so that I refuse to see the poor, I cut myself off from humanity. The saddest, hardest souls in the world are those who have cut themselves off from “the others” in humanity. Who are they, for us? Let’s open our eyes–and hearts and hands.
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
This an instruction not on dinner parties but on escaping the comfortable bubbles we live in. When someone tells me how bad Muslims, or gays are, I want to know: how many do you know? When someone complains about illegal immigrants, I want to know: how many illegal immigrants have actually done work for you?
I ask myself these same questions as a way of escaping my little bubbles. Any fool can be cordial to their own kind, and we don’t need Jesus to be a fool. So, today, listen to what makes your own heart uncomfortable. And then, get out of the bubble and get to know some folks. They need you, too.
You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land. Deuteronomy 15:10-11
These teachings in Deuteronomy were likely the product of memory: the memory of what it was like to be the poor in the land, the stranger in the land, the needy. The Jewish people spent time as captives in Babylon, taken away from all that was sacred and home to them. Sacred, safe, sure, and secure. We do not think of anything as sacred that is not also safe and trustworthy and dependable.
God’s directive came through memory. Remember what it was like? There are poor and needy among you. Open wide your hands–because you remember. No. I didn’t ask their religion, skin color, how they smell, whether they have papers or whether you think they deserve it or not. Open wide your hands.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
I don’t know a single person who thinks that he/she oppresses a poor person. All three of my children have worked in minimum wage jobs while going to college, paying for shelter and food, and bracing themselves for student loans. We help them along, and they are not in the streets dying, but they have worked with people who were very near that.
When we write our names on that meal receipt and fill in the tip, how generous is it? When the discussion of raising minimum wage comes up, is our first reflex to worry about how much that is going to cost us, the consumer? How about laws that make it easier for convicted felons who have served their time to get jobs? Do we bank with corporations who practice redlining? We are privileged if we don’t know what redlining is. Check it out, here. Do we belong to any organization that keeps people of color, women, or members of the LGBTQ community out because of who they are?
Whoever oppresses the poor insults his Maker.
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:17-18
I have the world’s goods. I and my spouse are teachers. We both have PhD’s in our fields. We are veterans (over 60 years teaching between us), and we make a very good living. Not millionaires, but secure. I am grateful. And what about love? Is there any notion of love in me? This same epistle says that Love = God. God = Love.
If I close my heart to the poor = no love. No love = no God. Isn’t it a good thing for us to have a government organization that helps us, collectively, take care of the poor? Taxes, then, can very well be one way (not the only) that I, who have the world’s goods) see my brother and sister in need, and open my heart to them. Closed heart = no love. No love = no God. Closed heart to the poor = no connection with God.