This post is guest written by Tim Cain. Tim is an elder over preaching, leading missional communities, training up and discipling leaders, counseling, and casting and protecting the vision of Kaleo Church in El Cajon, CA. Tim has a B.A. in pastoral studies from Moody Bible Institute and a M.A. in Bible from Westminster Theological Seminary West in Escondido, California. Tim and his wife Abbey have two children, Tayla and Malachi.
I believe we not only need to participate in the care for the poor, but consider the poor as we consider our family.
I want to take you to a prominent moment in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is eating at a ruler of the Pharisee’s home on the Sabbath, and in the middle of the meal He says: “He said to the man who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just.'” Luke 14:12-14
Jesus’ words jolt our thinking. They unexpectedly turn our world upside down. This text doesn’t even require an introduction. I want us to contemplate what Jesus actually means: Why on earth would He say these things? How on earth does He expect anybody to apply them? And what would it even look like if they did?
Jesus Divides People Into Two Groups?
First, Jesus divides people into two groups. They’re gonna be different for every single person, but, He says, there are two groups of people in our lives.
The first group we all know. They’re our friends, our family, our relatives, our rich neighbors. He’s talking about reciprocal relationships. He’s talking about people that your relationship with them is mutually beneficial. That you give, and they give. Sometimes you make sacrifices for these people. Sometimes you make tons of sacrifices for them.
He’s not saying that you never go out of your way for these people. What He’s saying is these are the people that when you make sacrifices for them, you have a reasonable expectation that if you needed them, they’d be there for you. These are the people that you invite to your parties, the people you invite to your birthday. The people that you spend holidays with. The people that you feel natural hanging around with. They’re comfortable, enjoyable. You don’t have to cross a lot of barriers in order to communicate and understand each other.
Then, He explains the second group. The truth is everyone has this first group of people in their lives, but not everyone even has this second group of people in their lives. This is a group of people that Jesus defines as the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Basically, He goes on to define them as the people who couldn’t pay you back even if they wanted to.
They’re not like you. They don’t think like you. They don’t talk like you. They don’t act like you. They’re not easy to relate to or to spend time with. They’re broken in areas that you feel like you have it all together. Sometimes it’s hard to really relate to people that are broken in areas that you feel like you have it together because you wonder why they don’t have it together.
Now those of you who are familiar with the Bible, you know that the Bible calls us to expand our horizons and to form relationships. It calls us to expand our horizons to include this second group. Most Christians understand that. Most Christians don’t believe that they are only to spend time with people like them. They recognize, yes, as a Christian I need to expand my horizons, and I need to include people that are different from me in my life.
How should Christians relate to the poor or to those that are radically different from them? If someone were to say, “What’s the Christian response to poverty or to the poor or to people who are different, what would you say?”
Serving the Poor Isn’t Enough
I think for most people, the first thing that would come to mind would be Christians are called to serve the poor. We’re called to serve those who are radically different than us; those who are broken in areas that we may have it together. We’re called to take our gifts, take our resources, take the blessings that God has given to us and share them liberally with others who are in need. Christians are called to serve the poor.
We often envision soup kitchens, volunteering, or going on missions trips and building houses or giving money to charity. These are the ways we think we should include the second category of people in our lives. Serving the poor is absolutely necessary. Serving the poor is good. There are countless passages in the Bible that call us to serve the poor.
While I’m not disparaging our actions of serving the poor, I am going to tell you that Jesus makes it clear that the Christian response to the poor moves beyond service.
When you serve the poor, certain distinctions always remain. For example, a soup kitchen. In a soup kitchen, there are distinctions: one group of people eat before they get there and then stand on one side of the table. They wear plastic gloves on their hands. Their job is to make sure that everybody gets the same amount, so that nobody complains and gets angry.
The other group of people are dirty. They smell. They come with nothing. They bring an empty plate. They get their food. They go, and they sit. Then the other group goes home. There is no way anyone could walk in and not be able to tell the difference just by looking between the haves and the have-nots. Between the servers and the people being served. There are distinctions.
We are sacrificing, and they are gaining. We feel good when we leave a soup kitchen. They don’t. The soup kitchen just reminds them of feelings of inferiority and feelings of shame. We go to a soup kitchen and leave feeling better. They don’t. Those are distinctions that God is calling us to break down.
I recently read a book by a 50 year-old successful businessman that said, “I cannot stand in lines at buffets, even five-star buffets because it brings back too many memories of shame, standing in line with my mom waiting to get food.” He’s 50 years-old, and the shame of standing in line to get food hasn’t left him.
I believe we not only need to participate in the care for the poor, but consider the poor as we consider our family. How can the Church love the poor that removes shame and breaks down walls? In the upcoming posts, I will explicitly outline a way forward: feasting with the poor.
How can the Church love the poor in a way that removes shame and breaks down walls?
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