Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Poor.... well you know

So there have been some things said in support of Trumps' budget proposal to cut programs that help the poor. His budget chief has said they are after quality not quantity and will put the money where it will do the most good. The Bible has been put to use as it often is in ways that buttress one's point of view. The poor you will always have with you is one of those verses or partial verses that Jesus purportedly said. The part of a verse is not given any context as if Jesus one day was handing out aphorisms. The other verse that has been popular among the politicians is a wise saying from somewhere in the Bible (it has to say it, right) about how cutting taxes to the rich will help the poor. There are lots of verses about the rich in the Bible but I cannot find this one. Then, there is the cabinet member who is in charge of housing for the poor, among other things, who stated that poverty is a state of mind. Gosh, I thought it had to do with childcare, putting food on the table and paying the rent.

It seems I have heard these things all my life. I've lived my life around Christians, mostly, as a pastor. Christians are giving people: toys at Christmas, canned goods for the food pantry, sponsoring children, and giving to missions. But, they draw the line often at giving handouts to the poor. They will say it makes them dependent on the government instead of taking responsibility for their own lives. If you are poor and broke in America, the evangelical financial guru Dave Ramsey says, it is because you need to make better choices so you can get better results. The poor will always be with us because some people make poor choices. Just look at what is in their grocery carts.

Two days before Jesus died he was in Bethany (means House of the Poor) in the home of Simon the leper (read outcast). Simon was probably poor but he did have a home to share with Jesus and some of his friends. During dinner, a woman entered with an alabaster jar (equals expensive) full of very costly oil, a luxury item even if you were rich. Although Matthew (ch 26) does not tell us it was rumored she was a prostitute who had used her earnings to buy the oil, or perhaps she was simply poor and somehow got her hands on some good stuff. She was out of place, poor and her presence outraged the disciples (see Mark 14 where it says they were angry and scolded her). She broke open the expensive jar and poured the oil extravagantly on Jesus. It was a years worth of wages wasted when it could have been spent on the poor (at least, if not on a vacation in Joppa for the disciples). Think of how many could have been fed? If she donated it to the Memorial Fund she could have had a plaque in her honor. Except, we don't know her name. Her acts will be remembered, Jesus said, but not with a brass plate on the Fellowship hall door.

Jesus says, chill out. She has done a good thing.... for the poor you will always have with you.

Jesus was poor, really poor. Most of the people around him were poor, outcast, and socially disabled. When Jesus talked about bringing good news to the poor he was not referring to a state of mind. He was talking about people like him. Who he knew. Who he lived with. When he said, Blessed are the poor he was not talking down to them. No, they were standing all around him. When he prayed, give us today our daily bread, he did not mean meet me for coffee and a scone.

Jesus was poor. He knew what he was talking about. He knew what he was bringing to the poor and it was not charity, a goodwill box at Christmas or a toy for a tot.

It was good news, the same good news the woman in the story had heard and proclaimed.

She undercut luxury.
She undermined money.
She understood the limits of charity and the system that kept it in place.

She underwent the transformation of the kingdom of God. She got it. Jesus was King. He was not taking over but turning over the kingdoms of this world.

It was a New Kingdom. It was a New Ethic.

Oil - what is that? What does it do for you? Why does it matter? Gold? Diamonds? So what, just stuff. You have Jesus. You follow Jesus the King. See Matthew 5.

Money runs out. Buys a few meals but it is no lasting solution to the poor. Community is, the community of the King.

She came out as poor in a poor man's home, in the village of the poor. They celebrated: yes we are poor and Jesus, our King, is poor and there always will be poor among us but we trust God now and for everlasting.