“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40, English Standard Version, here and following). How we respond to poor people is how we respond to Jesus himself. In this way the poor serve as God’s constant question to us.
Rich people don’t like the question or God’s insistence in asking it. So the rich hate the poor. The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly (Proverbs 18:23). The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender (Proverbs 22:7). The rich become wealthy at the expense of the poor (James 2:5-7). The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends (Proverbs 14:20).The rich express their hatred of the poor through indifference and violence. They act like the rich man who was careless of the needs of the beggar Lazarus at his gate (Luke 16:19-31). They even have the poor murdered just as Christ ended up on the cross.
What is our response to the poor? God questions our integrity through the poor he brings into our lives. Through his questioning, he liberates us to become poor ourselves. He sets us free to embrace the simplicity, both material and spiritual, of those serving God by living as God’s question to the world.
Through his questioning, God sets us free to identify with Jesus as he identifies with and represents the poor. As Paul reminds us, Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this in mind among yourselves, which is your in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself (Philippians 2:4-7).
James says to us, Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits (James 1:10-11). When we are rich, we suffer humiliation when we lose our wealth. But losing our wealth may also be our chance to embrace humility. In this way we may glory in it, for through it we may become, with Jesus, one of God’s poor ones. In this way we may participate in the glory, now hidden but soon enough to be revealed, of Jesus.
(Today’s reflections were guided by Jacques Ellul’s book, Money and Power (trans. LaVonne Neff, Inter-Varsity Press, 1984).
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