I write. My degree is in journalism. So I guess there is something inherently journalistic in what I do: journaling my spiritual journey in this blog as if it were a free-distribution newspaper. More than a hundred years ago, Finley Peter Dunn said, “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
I think there is something inherently Christlike in the practice of comforting and afflicting, too – which is one of the reasons I pursue it.
And one of the areas in which the Lord and His early followers were consistent and persistent in comforting and afflicting was talking about giving to the poor – then actually doing it.
I know, I know. I’ve heard all the rationalizations: “if you give to the poor, they’ll take and never earn.” “Charity is the best way to promote poverty.” “The poor you always have with you.” (As if that’s an excuse to ignore them. Jesus’ quote here was to emphasize His shrinking longevity with His friends; not to provide an excuse not to give to those in need.)
Look how very different the view from century one was from that of century twenty-one:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” – Luke 4:18a
Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” – Luke 6:20 (not ‘poor in spirit’ here; just ‘poor.’)
“But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” – Luke 11:41.
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” – Luke 12:33
“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:13-14
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” – Luke 19:8
“I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.” – Luke 21:3
Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. – John 13:29
“Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” – Acts 2:45
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. – Acts 9:36
Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.’ ” – Acts 10:30-31
(Paul before Felix): “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.” – Acts 24:17
“For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” – Romans 15:26
As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” – 2 Corinthians 9:9
“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” – Galatians 2:10
“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” – James 2:5-6
Helping the poor in century one was so vitally important that it became a cornerstone of living worship and service among the loyal followers of Jesus. They didn’t argue about what was authorized in worship; they knew. Giving to the poor was authorized. And it was a sore-thumb-obvious sign of apostasy from that paradigm when they gobbled down a fellowship meal before the poor had arrived, or relegated them to lower-class seating when the church assembled.
It was a signal that something had gone terribly wrong when wealthy Christians were uncomfortable around the less-blessed.
I am so comfortable in my life that reading these verses and writing this post makes me extremely uncomfortable.
What did they know back then that we don’t know now?
Or, perhaps the question is, Whom?