Repulsed By the Poor

A young woman took her sandals off to cross a short stretch of road in Rajasthan because the upper caste demanded the Dalits to show respect as they pass.  The Dalits are the lowest caste of India, the “untouchables.”  They are not permitted to go to the temple, they are often uneducated, and their jobs are to control human waste and to remove animal carcasses.  As you can imagine, they are the poorest of the poor, considered an impure people and other castes are so repulsed by the poor Dalits that they made rules that the Dalits cannot even look at another caste during certain hours of the day.  In some cases if an untouchable allows for their shadow to fall on the highest caste, the untouchable could be punished.

You may also know the Roma people as gypsies.  In the Czech Republic and other European countries, the Roma are viewed as trouble.  Some say the Roma people have no soul, they are dumb, can’t learn and they are thieves.  An Amnesty International report says that Roma children are 27 times more likely to be put into a “practical school” that is intended for “mildly mentally handicapped.” [1]  This level of education does not prepare them for employment opportunity and as a result they remain very poor. [2].  They are so hated that a facebook page was named after a house address where many Roma lived. The face book page contained comments like, “Chuck a bomb inside it (the house) that will sort it out.”  And “Burn those wankers down.”  The page had 1,690 likes before it was shut down [3].  So repulsive are these poor people that one woman was sterilized without her consent in order to stop Roma births.  While that may seem less than credible, consider that 87 women have filed similar complaints and yet the Czech government has done nothing about it [4].

But let us not think that the United States doesn’t show their own repulsion of the poor and the homeless.  The April 4th issue of the Niagra Gazette ran a story from the Memorial Park area about neighbors of a homeless shelter trying to get the City Council to close it because they were….well, providing shelter to the homeless.  [5] This is not an exceptional story.  Unfortunately it  is commonplace, simply google “homeless shelter blocked” and you will find a plethora of recent stories of the same.

But let’s not stop there. Consider Karen Vetere, a Republican mayoral candidate in Kingston, NY who said that the local shelter housed “pedophiles and drunks and alcoholics and bums” together with children.  She later admitted to never having gone into the shelter. [6]  Cincinnati disc jockey Billy Willy Cunningham rounded up homeless people with a promise of cheap wine and put them on a bus to take them to a suburb, all as a publicity stunt. When the Cincinnati coalition for the homeless called him about it, he shouted, “Go to hell,” hung up and publicly called the homeless degenerates and filthy [7].

One final illustration:  The Clarion, Sinclair community College’s school newspaper published an editorial by Jonathan Dillon that said, “If one more homeless bum asks me for change in the Oregon District, I may have to start running them over when I see them on the street.”

He continued, “All I’m saying is that next time you are driving and have the opportunity to run over some obnoxious bum who’s been begging you for money as long as you can remember, why not swerve? Fun, fun, fun.” [8].

The Christian Response

So, what should be the Christian response to the poor and the cast off?  Before we answer that question, let’s make some disclaimers and declarations.  We are talking in this article about a Christian response, not the Republican response or the Democrat response or even the socialist response.  Take off your political wardrobe, set aside your cape, unstrap your sword and put your raised and pointed index finger back in your pocket so that we can talk about Jesus.

Second, I am talking about the poor, in general, as a whole.  Yes, we all know people who “won’t work.”  Many of us have family members that have “brought it on themselves” due to drug addiction, alcohol, and/or laziness.  Also, let’s agree on this, just because someone is poor, that don’t make ‘em right.  By that, I mean the poor are often denied an equal opportunity for justice in America, but, at the end they can still be wrong, unlawful and downright unfair.  But, let’s take those nuances and place them on the sideline for just a moment.  We will get to them later.  For now, let’s talk as Jesus did about the poor.

Jesus and the Poor

At the house of a Pharisee where he was invited to dine Jesus said,

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or 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 your.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  Luke 14:13, 14 ESV.

Jesus said this to contradict a teaching of the Jews that the poor, the blind and the lame would not enter the Kingdom of God.

To emphasize his point, Jesus tells the parable of the Great Banquet, offering an invitation to many.  But after they snubbed the invitation, the host of the banquet offers it to the poor, blind and lame.  The poor, blind and lame are not second class to Jesus, they are offered a seat at his banquet just as any other man who will accept the invitation.

In Matthew Jesus said “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”  5:42 ESV.  In Luke Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to charity” 12:33.  And in the most direct illustration Jesus tells the story of the sheep and the goats.   There, the Son of Man orders the goats to depart from him and go into eternal punishment because they didn’t give to poor by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and they didn’t visit those in the prison.  Matthew 25:31-46

It was common practice for Jesus and the disciples to give to the poor.   When the woman at Simon’s house used the perfume in the alabaster jar to anoint the feet of Jesus, the complaint was that the perfume could have been used in a better way, namely sold and given to the poor. No one suggested that the money be used for themselves.  Matthew 26:7-9.

Jesus and the Rich

To the contrary Jesus didn’t have very much good to say about the rich.  He offered them opportunity to become disciples as much as any man.  Jesus told a rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and then, he would have riches in heaven.  But the Bible says that the young man went away sad because he had so many riches.  To that Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of
God.”

Other Scriptures

There are many more scriptures throughout the bible that deals with poverty and the poor in varying situations.  Leviticus instructs the farmer to leave a little of his crops behind for “gleaners” who are identified as the needy and the stranger.  19:19ff.  Deuteronomy says not to close your hand to your brother, but generously lend to cover his lack.  15:7.  John the Baptist tells crowds desiring baptism to share food and clothes with those who have none.  Luke 3:11.  James directs the Christian who answers the door to one in need to do more than pray for them, for your faith without works is dead.  James 2.  And Ezekiel says that the sin of Sodom that brought destruction was, among other things, that they had “excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”  Ezek 16:49.

There are near 2,000 verses dealing with the poor and needy, but it can be summed up in  the mission of Jesus as written in Luke 4:18, 19 and read by Jesus from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Jesus announced his calling as proclaiming good news to the poor, freeing captives, and setting at liberty the oppressed.  That is certainly done in the spirit world when someone receives salvation, but the words and actions of Jesus reveal that it is also ministering to the poor in this age.  Are we following Jesus?

Let the Rubber Meet the Road

So, having arrived at the conclusion that Christians should provide for the poor, how does that look?  Is the local church food pantry enough to satisfy our requirement?

What about the poor that come to this country as immigrants and want to work?  What is the Christian response?

The poor are denied jobs because they have low credit scores.  Should Christian business owners deny jobs to the poor because they are “too poor?”

In 2011 the CEO of Walmart made 16 million dollars while the average full-time employee made $16,000, $7,000 less than the poverty line.  What is the Christian response?

How do we as Christians respond to the “prosperity message?”  What is that prosperity for?

What is our ethical response to Affirmative Action, unequal education, and national health care?

And how do we respond to the prostitute, the addict, the alcoholic?

In upcoming articles we will embark on these discussions in order to arrive at an ethical Christian response-not a political one.  Watch for the articles on this website.  Each week will be another discussion.  Let’s ask the Lord to lead us to unity in our Christian response.  Feel free to offer your responses, complaints and other topics in our comment box.

[1] http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/czech-republic-must-eliminate-second-rate-education-for-roma-20100113

[2] http://www.expats.cz/prague/article/community/czech-society-and-its-roma-minority/

[3] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/europe-failing-to-protect-roma-from-discrimination-and-poverty-a-942057.html

[4] http://umjschool.typepad.com/prague07/2007/08/justice-delayed.html#more

[5] http://www.niagara-gazette.com/local/x1445024742/Homeless-shelter-under-fire-from-Memorial-Park-neighbors/print

[6] Challenger’s Degradation of the Homeless Galls Mayor” The Daily Freeman, September 21st, 2003.

[7]  “Illegal to be Homeless: The Criminalization of Homelessness in the United States” National Coalition for the Homeless, August 2003.

[8]  http://www.nationalhomeless.org/hatecrimes/2003/marketingcases.html quoting “‘Go Away You Obnoxious Bums’ Article Elicits Outrage From Activist Community,” StreetVibes, Dec. 2003; Jonathan Dillon, “Go Away You Obnoxious Bums,” The Clarion, Sinclair Community College; “COHHIO Action Alert: Action Alert — Newspaper Advocates Hatred Towards the Homeless.”

 

 

 

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