Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 2

The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 1
The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 2


Last week, I put forward the thesis that liberal and social justice Christians (and even non-Christians) are wrong to suggest that Jesus' primary message was social with special emphasis on the poor. Certainly Jesus had a lot to say about poverty and the poor, but we must be careful in connecting the narrow gospel (which deals with depravity, death, and the Devil) with social justice theology. Below, I highlight all of the times Jesus mentions the poor or poverty by name with the parallels in parenthesis.


Matthew
Matthew 5:3 (parallel in Luke 6:20) - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 6:1-4 - Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Matthew 11:5 (parallel in Luke 7:22) - the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them
Matthew 25:34-46 - 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 26:9, 11 (parallel Mark 14:5-7; John 12:5-8) - For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor. . . . For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have me.

Mark
Mark 10:21 - Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
Mark 12:41ff (Luke 21:2-3) -  41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

Luke
Luke 4:18 - The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed.
Luke 14:13 - But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.
Luke 14:21 - And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, "Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame."
Luke 16:20 - And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores. . . . Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.
Luke 18:22When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.
Luke 19:8 - Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

John
John 13:29 - For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor."

In regards to our thesis, it will be helpful to break these verses down into three categories. First, some of the above are not really about poverty. For example, John 13:29 isn't a prescriptive verse but a descriptive one. Similar to this is Matthew 26:9-12 (parallels in Mark 14:5-7 and John 12:5-8) are not about helping the poor, but the context shows the emptiness of Judas's heart. Also in this category would include Matthew 5:3 (parallel in Luke 6:20). There Jesus addresses spiritual poverty (poor in spirit) and not physical poverty. Matthew 11:5 (parallel in Luke 7:22) is about preaching to the poor, not giving to the poor. Other passages in this category would include Luke 14:13, 21 and will be explored briefly in the next post.

Secondly, there are those that speak of poverty but one cannot develop a theology of helping the poor from them. Matthew 6:1-4 is an example of this. It should be noted that Jesus says "when you give to the poor" not if. He also says next "when you pray" and "when you fast," assuming His followers would give, pray, and fast.  Other verses in this category would include Luke 16:20 and Luke 19:8 and will be explored briefly in the next post.

Thirdly, there are a number of verses that may challenge my thesis. At the top of the list is Matthew 25:34-46 and will be explored in part 4 of this series. Similarly, Luke 4:18 is an often referenced verse because of its emphasis on the poor. Although I think Mark 10:21 belongs in the second category at best, it is often quoted and thus deserves fuller treatment. Similarly, the context of Mark 12:41ff (parallel in Luke 21:2-3) ought to make it clear this is not about economics, but religion, but it is often quoted by social justice Christians.  Other verses in this category including Luke 18:22 and will be explored in future posts.

With these three categories, we can proceed with our assertion that humanitarianism is not the gospel but the fruit of it contrary to what many theological liberals and secularists argue. 
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