The Poor, always with us – Deuteronomy 15

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Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 14-16.

Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” That’s a good summary of how many people feel about tithing, one of the topics in today’s reading. But I don’t want to write about tithing today. Let’s look at what Deuteronomy has to say about poverty.

There should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today… There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. Deuteronomy 15:4-5, 11

There should be no poor, God says, because I will so richly bless you IF… and there’s the catch. God realizes we won’t fully obey him. As a result, there will always be poor people. In an earlier post I mentioned an article that explained four causes of poverty, four broken relationships that lead to loss of wealth and prosperity. A broken relationship with God is one of the four, though not one we usually think of. But God’s isn’t as concerned about the cause of poverty as he is about the way his people will react to it. He knows by nature we tend to ignore or mistreat the poor, and he wants to correct that.

  • He tells us to be generous and compassionate to the poor, not hard-hearted.
  • He wants us to give to the poor rather than be tight-fisted.
  • He wants us to give even though we receive no financial payback.
  • Our giving will result in blessings from the LORD. If we hold back from a brother in need, God declares that we are guilty of sin.

I want to point out that we must use some discernment in giving aid. Ideally, we are helping a person we know; they really are a brother in that sense. We know the reality of their poverty. However, we’ve all been in situations where a stranger asks for help. The good Samaritan helped a complete stranger. In that situation we need to try to give material aid that cannot be misused. That could mean giving food or clothing rather than cash. It might mean giving to an agency that can work with people in need rather than giving directly to the person. Even the good Samaritan gave to the innkeeper rather than to the injured traveler.

The Bible is full of references to the poor. It’s a common problem, even in America, but much more so in the underdeveloped world, and especially so in the historical world. And God expresses his heart for the poor. Look at some of the common themes that he brings out in the Bible:

  • The poor are often victims of oppression and crime
  • The poor are often spiritually rich
  • Do not show partiality against the poor; instead defend them and deliver them
  • Mistreating the poor offends God; when we give to the poor we will receive back from God
  • God is on the side of the poor

Maybe you are wondering why God cares for the poor. One reason may be that poverty shows us, physically, what is true for each one of us spiritually. We are all poor apart from God, spiritually bankrupt, destined for Hell unless God gives us his saving grace through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth, and lived, as a man without a home or privilege or position. He became poor for our sake, that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). I don’t know whether God cares for the poor because of his son’s poverty, or whether Jesus gave up everything to identify with the poor in possessions and spirit. I suspect some of both. As for me, I hope I can avoid cynicism about poverty and remain as God is, compassionate and open-handed towards the poor.

Image by Wen-Yan King on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

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3 thoughts on “The Poor, always with us – Deuteronomy 15

  1. “To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete: it means seeing in every person and face of the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely. And you are, dear brothers and sisters, in the face of Jesus.” (Pope Francis, Address during Visit at the Homeless Shelter “Dona Di Maria,” 5/21/13)

    “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor.” (Pope Francis, Address to the Archbishop of Canterbury, 6/14/13)

    “Poverty calls us to sow hope…. Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those unjust social structures.” (Pope Francis, Meeting with Students of Jesuit Schools—Q&A, 6/7/13)

    Has the world embraced these words which bring the message of Christ to the present day? Far from it. To listen to Fox News, you would think this message politically subversive and radical. It is. It is the gospel of our Lord.

    Did you know, he sneaks out of the Vatican at night to minister to the poor in Rome? Can you imagine our President doing the same?

    • You are right that we must act to help the poor. It is not just a theory. Our spiritual leaders should be out in front practicing this. “When you do it to one of the least of these…”

  2. Pingback: BIBLE DAILY DEVOTIONAL – Deut 15 – The poor, always with us | ChristianBlessings

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