What We Do With the Poor is What We Do With Jesus

The other night, I went on my nightly walk through village to visit with the neighbors and I was struck once again with the poverty that surrounds us. The problems seem insurmountable: open, untreated wounds; sick children; dark, mud-brick homes that contain few possessions outside of what our neighbors find in our trash pit. Then, as I walk back towards my house, I hear my 4 hyper-active children hysterically laughing and playing, without a care in the world. The contrast between their joy and my neighbors’ sorrow makes the heaviness that I often feel even more profound.

How Does God Call Us To React to Poverty?

It is scenarios like these that lead Dave and I into lengthy conversations about how to improve the standard of living among our neighbors. We have plenty of dreams, but at the end of the day, we feel as if this problem is just too big. 

But, at some point I thought, maybe the problem is supposed to be too big. When Jesus said to his disciples, “The poor you will always have with you,” he revealed that poverty would always be a problem within this fallen world. A problem that will not go away until he comes again and finally establishes his streets-of-gold kingdom on earth.So, what does God expect us to do with the poor until that day? After searching the Scriptures I have found that what God calls us to do is: 

1. Look at the Poor

“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” (Proverbs 28:27).

It is really tempting to shield ourselves from the poor around us. How much easier is it to look straight ahead than to look at the man holding a sign on the side of the road asking for food? I am not saying it is always best to give to that man, but I think God calls us to think about what his life is like. The principle in Proverbs 28:27 is that the Lord is not content with willful ignorance. He wants us to look at the poor in the eyes and listen to their cries. He wants us to feel what they feel.

In doing this, we love far more than just the poor person, we are actually loving Jesus himself…

2. See Our Savior

In Matthew 25, Jesus indicts those who were indifferent to the poor with the following:

I was hungry and you gave me no food,I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,naked and you did not clothe me,sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

Those who are in the judgment seat will respond:

Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?

Right before sending them into eternal punishment Jesus responds,

Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me (42, 44-45).

These people are being judged because they overlooked Jesus in the market when he was asking them to buy him some food. They kept putting off visiting Jesus when he was sick and in bed with malaria. When Jesus came to their houses unannounced, they waved him off saying it was not a good time to just drop by. 

The Lord identifies so closely with the “least of these” that he actually calls himself the “Father of the Fatherless” and the “Defender of widows.”  His desire is that when we look at the poor, we see him. And when if we fail to do this, when we see him again at the judgment, he will respond that he never knew us.  

3. Give Generously, Give Freely

In Matthew 25 listed above, there was also another group present at the great judgment: those who were kind to the poor. These were the people who gave food to Jesus when he was hungry. And when he came in from working all day in the fields all day with nothing to drink, they gave him water. There are those who saw Jesus in their neighborhood wearing rags and they gave him clothes. To those who looked at the poor and see their Savior, they are welcomed into eternal life (Matt 25:31-40)

What is remarkable about these acts is that they are so simple. Jesus is not calling us to change the world; he is simply calling us to see him in the begging eyes of the person asking us for food. He is calling us to treat each individual poor person with same the dignity and honor that we would treat Him with. In the words of Proverbs 19:17: 

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord.

Of course we want to say that it is more complicated than this. We eye beggars with suspicion and often do not give because we want to be “good stewards.” Without a doubt, we oughtto be careful to not do more harm in giving than we would in withholding. But I cannot contend with the repeated principle in Scripture that God wants us to give generously and freely. And in doing this, we are following the example of our God. Psalm 112:9 says of God, 

“He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

The Lord freely distributes his gifts throughout the earth and, when given to sinful men, these gifts often lead to coveting, stealing, and even murder. Yet he still gives. I love the end of the above verse that affirms (despite all the sin that might result from his gifts) “His righteousness endures forever.” He is still righteous in his giving even though his gifts are misused. He is not charged as an enabler, but instead is praised for his generosity to the poor. This is a very liberating idea. I am not judged for how the poor handle what I give them, I am judged based on how I reacted to their needs.  

At the end of the day, poverty is a complex issue. And as much as I would love to solve all of the problems of Cameroon, I have come to realize that more than my solutions, God is seeking my faithfulness. He does not call me to save the poor, he calls me to look at them, to see them as I would see my Savior, and to give generously. I may not be able to end world poverty, but by his grace and I seek to walk in faithfulness to these principles.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31

Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.