“For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.” – Psalm 72:12-14
I have found myself repeatedly returning to this passage of scripture over the last several weeks. In a divided culture that often portrays social justice movements as a threat, it is encouraging to hear scripture describe the “cause of the poor” as a cause that God will defend. In a world of injustice, God judges the poor specifically with justice (v. 2).
And this means that Christians, too, are called to defend this cause. My faith leads me to hope in a future where justice is realized in the kingdom of God, but the example of Christ also leads me to work in the present to achieve this future, even if its only a glimpse. What does it mean to be a Christian if we are not the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world?
Lest we are tempted to comfort ourselves with a mental list of charities we support and the soup kitchens we’ve done, it is important that we as Christians take a step back and honestly assess our failures in this area. The cause of the poor is the cause most overlooked by the world. Is it really safe to assume that we are not included in this?
It is easy to volunteer at a church outreach over in “that part of town.” It is much more difficult to actually invite a poor family into your home for dinner. Showing up to an event is easy. Building an actual relationship with another human being is much more difficult. In the former, we are the wonderful Christians who have so much to offer. In the latter, we are normal human beings who have much to give and just as much to receive. The lines that divide the rich and the poor begin to fade when the rich finally recognize the worth of the poor, receive them as equals, and not only give to the poor but also receive from the wealth that only poor people can offer.
Don’t mistake me. I’m not saying that church outreaches are unimportant. Or that soup kitchens and charities are bad. These things provide real services and help actual people. Nevertheless, I am saying that these things are empty in the grand scheme of effecting change as long as the people that we truly invest our time and money into are all middle-class and higher. Who were your bridesmaids or groomsmen at your wedding? Who do you hang out with on Friday nights? Who gets a ride from you when their car breaks down? Who are you willing to trust with a loan when they need a few bucks? Who do you “put in a good word for” when they are looking for a job? Who do you buy lunch for when you’ve got some extra money?
The people we consider our good friends and closest confidants today are the result of significant investments. We invest time, money, energy, resources, tears, and more into the people we consider “worth” the effort. What portion of these people come from “that part of town”?
Of course, we can make up any number of excuses for why our social circle might be composed of mostly one class of people. “I grew up in a middle-class home.” “I’ve never had the opportunity.” “I don’t meet very many people outside of my church/neighborhood/job/school etc.” “They need to be willing to receive my friendship.”
But that’s just the thing. The world is set up to exclude the poor. So the number of reasons why we have excluded them in our own lives will be endless. It is easy to exclude the poor. It is much more difficult to swim against the current of injustice and actually befriend those who are most despised by the world.
May the church become a place where those who are most despised, who have experienced the most oppression and exclusion, can find peace. May the church become a place where both rich and poor can worship under the same roof in community and fellowship.