Poor Jesus

Poor Jesus

“Only he [the king] shall not have too many horses for himself…And he shall not have too many wives… and he shall not greatly increase silver and gold for himself…It shall be that when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah…It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to fear the lord, his God, to keep all the words of the Torah…so that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren…” (Deut. 17: 16-20)

Perhaps Jesus read this passage. There is little chance, actually, that he did not. We know from the traditions of the times that knowledge of the Torah was expected, as well as knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.

We know from Jesus own words that he quoted the Torah easily, and understood it deeply.

We also know that Jesus was a leader of the people during the time that he walked the earth. If by no other definition, he was a leader because he had followers. Leaders emerge, and followers join them.

Was Jesus poor? If so, did he choose to be poor? Could he have chosen differently?

First, what is meant by poor?

In the Greek, there are two words for poor: ptochos and penes. Ptochos defines a beggar, penes poor is someone that does manual labor. Being a worker is honorable, but taxable. Beggars moved about, as they had no other means of support besides begging.

Within this, there are other levels. For instance, being a farmer is of a higher status than being a carpenter. Farmers had land. But for all of those defined as penes, they could be defined as poor, meaning that they lived day to day. They worked and earned, and were burdened with steep taxes. Outside of the merchant class, it was difficult to ever get ahead, systemically.  As an example; for fishermen, as some of the apostles were, you paid a fishing tax, like a license, and you paid a tax when you sold your fish.

How would Jesus have seen and experienced the world around him?

Let’s start with Mary, what she said, and what most assuredly she would have passed down to her children. Look for her views about money and power:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:

the Almighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him

in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,

he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel

for he remembered his promise of mercy,

the promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children forever.

(Lk 1:46-55)

Mary sees, or imagines, a future where the mighty are brought down, but the hungry and lowly are lifted up, or filled.

And what would Jesus have seen as a child? He lived in Nazareth .Nazareth was a poor Jewish village. Jesus would certainly have experienced the difference between the poor but devoted Jews, and the more carefree life of the Romans, and some rich Jews.

Nazareth was a village, not a city. Cities were clearly marked as places of wealth and pleasure, and by their walls. Once you were outside of the walls, you were back in the “country” in a few steps.

Within a few miles of Nazareth was the city of Sepphoris. Recent archeology suggests that Sepphoris was a well-heeled town. It is reasonable to guess that Jesus and/or Joseph would have gone to a nearby city to earn money as a carpenter. Then, like now, rich people and poor people knew where the other type lived.

Jesus, as human, was a man of his time. He was also a religious leader of his time. What models did he see from other religious leaders? What did he know about the history of leaders?

History. Although much the history of the leaders of the Hebrews had not been written by the time of Jesus, certainly the stories were told and traditions upheld. What is the history of leadership?

If we begin with Abraham, the story begins with a prophet. Then we move to Isaac,Jacob, Moses, and then Aaron.It is important to note that before Moses was a wandering Jew. As a boy he was rich, or a member of a rich family; certainly he was aware of, and had been the recipient of wealth in his early days.

Although as a murderer he did not have the choice to return to the wealth of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s household, he turned his back on wealth and freedom, by standing up for a fellow Jew.

As we trace forward with the historical leaders, we have Joshua, who led the people into the promised land, following the death of Moses. After this, the time is marked as the time of The Judges.

When the Jews, led by Joshua, took over the land of Canaan, the Israelites gradually changed from being Nomads, to living in settled communities. The land made farming difficult, but they lived on what they raised in their fields, namely, grain, wine, oil, figs, and the milk and meat of their cattle. What they did not need for their own subsistence, history suggests they sold to the Phoenician merchants.

So there might have been times of greater wealth, and the ability to buy some things of luxury or decoration from the Phoenicians, but overall, theirs was subsistence living.

The Time of The Judges: In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his eyes. (Judges 21:25)

They lived in a way that for the most part, required very little supervision, and so there was none. Of course, some would fall away into other cultures, but this was more often the exception.

Due to this combined lifestyle of Torah obedience, and their agricultural life, it is fair to assume that the people, and more importantly, their Prophet leaders, were not often wealthy. This is what would be known to the Jewish people as their history, for approximately 1100 years.

Othniel

1st Judge after Joshua’s death

Ehud

Fought the Moabites

Shagmar

Led Israelites against the Philistines

Deborah

Prophetess, guided Barak to victory over the Canaanites, only female judge

Gideon

Defeated Midianites with 300 men

Abimelech

Only judge to win leadership through treachery

Tola

Judged Israel for 23 years

Yair

Judged Israel for 22 years

Jepthah

Defeated Ammonites

Ibzan

Judged people for 7 years

Elon

Judge for 10 years

Abdon

Ruled for 8 years

Samson

Fought Philistines single handedly

Eli

Priest, ruled people from the sanctuary at Gilo

Samuel

Last judge before the kingdom came under the rule of Saul

Although the Judges  had some ability to settle disputes, their role was more military in nature. The Judges were called from the people, by the people, with the understanding that God’s hand was in the choice.

This period of history was rife with stories of invading and invasions, and the Judges were heroic figures that led Israel militarily.

In the year 884 BCE, 393 years after the Jewish people first entered the Land of Israel, Saul is anointed as the first king by the prophet Samuel in accordance with the wishes of the people.

450 years of kings.

What happened?  Here is the story, from 1 Samuel 8.

Israel Asks for a King

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

So…as wealth and greed entered through the sons of Samuel, the people wanted to be lead in a “better” way, or what was the way of the world. Apparently, the people had stopped seeing themselves as the people where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The first anointed king over Israel was Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul came from a wealthy family, and was physically attractive.

“There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.” (1 Samuel 9:2) When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord pointed him out. “There he is, the man of whom I spoke to you. This one shall reign over My people.” (1 Samuel 9:17)

Saul ruled for two years, before he chose to fall on his own sword in battle. But long before that, he had become consumed with jealousy because of young David. Consider this from I Samuel.

It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”…1 Samuel 18:7

So now young David becomes the king…and wealth comes to the ruler. We know that there had been some great men of the Bible that have been described as rich, but the point that I am making that although some wealth was reported, there were no problems associated with this wealth .

In point of fact, some great people in the Bible enjoyed significant wealth.

Abram was ‘extremely rich’ (Genesis 13:2), Jacob became “very wealthy” (Genesis 30:43) and Isaac “became a very rich man and his wealth continued to grow” (Genesis 26:13).

King David was ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14) – but he was also incredibly rich. The Bible tells us in 1 Chronicles 29:3 that he gave all the gold and silver from his personal stock towards the building of the Temple. How much did he give?

1 Chronicle 22:14 : Now, behold, in my trouble I have prepared for the house of the LORD an hundred thousand talents of gold, and a thousand talents of silver.

One talent weighed about 75 pounds! Talents were a measure of weight and money. A talent weighs roughly 75 U.S. pounds (34.3 kilograms), which is equal to 1,094 troy ounces. At $1,500 per troy ounce, a talent of gold in today’s value is worth $1,641,000. At $1,600 per troy ounce, a talent is worth $1,750,400. And…. thats for one talent, he gave 1000!

And that wasn’t all that he had, that is just what he gave to build the temple.

More on the wealth of David.

While David reigned as King, there was peace in Israel. He was able to hold back his enemies from all sides. This peace lasted through his life, and through the time of his son Solomon. David fought and conquered and acquired much wealth. His goal was to build the temple, as a resting place for his God, and His people.

The privilege and responsibility for building the Temple was ultimately realized by Solomon.

And if you thought David was rich…

We stand in awe of the timeless truths and incredible wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. But who wrote most of it? Only the wealthiest king to have ever lived, King Solomon. When the Queen of Sheba visited him, she was left breathless when she saw the degree of his wealth.

And when we look at the magnitude, detail, precision, the costly materials and the skilled labor that was put into the building of Solomon’s Temple, it tells its own story of wealth, abundance and excellence.

Solomon reigned as king and enjoyed a time of unprecedented prosperity.  During that time, Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem became the center of religious life for God’s people; and each year the people would pilgrimage there to come before God.

Though it is not known what the worth of King Solomon and his holdings amounted to in dollars, he is reputed as the wealthiest figure in history. The Bible contends that King Solomon held a fortune that dwarfed any and every person that lived before him. And this fortune did not diminish – each year Solomon received 25 tons of gold, as well as income derived from business, trade and annual tribute paid to him by all of the kings and governors of Arabia. King Solomon’s throne was coated in pure gold and inlaid with ivory. It had 6 stairs, 12 lion statues (1 on either side of each step) and a solid gold footstool. Two larger gold lion statues stood on either side of the throne.

All of the goblets and household articles in Solomon’s palace were pure gold. King Solomon was reportedly so rich, that during the years of his reign over Jerusalem, his immense wealth caused silver to be considered of little value and as common as rocks. As such, nothing in Solomon’s palace was made of silver.

We know that wise Solomon accumulated enormous wealth. I Kings states that he had 12000 horses and horsemen, and 1400 chariots. He married to accumulate wealth and maintain peace and political favor. Although some day that this is an exaggeration, the Bible still reports 700 wives and 300 concubines.

In ancient Israel, the Priests were royal employees, and therefore paid by the King. Beside all of the money paid in tribute, we know that Solomon used forced labor as builders, and heavy taxes.

Still, the nation was at peace, and so this wild standard continued, but not for much longer. It all began to come apart under the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam.

Israel Rebels Against Rehoboam

2 Chronicles 10:1

Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone there to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this (he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), he returned from Egypt. So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went

away. Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.

They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”

The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’”

Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the Lord, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.

When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:

“What share do we have in David what part in Jesse’s son?

To your tents, Israel. Look after your own house, David!”

And this was the end of the peace, and Israel fought Israel. What was the cause? Apparently the splendor of Solomon was not enough for young Rehoboam “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier.”

Israel was ruled by Kings, from the time of Saul at 1049 BCE, until Hoshea, approximately 723 BCE. Here is a bit of scripture regarding the last King of Israel.

Hoshea Becomes the Last King of the Northern Tribes of Israel

2 Kings 17

Hoshea became king of Israel in Samaria. It was in the 12th year that Ahaz was king of Judah. Hoshea ruled for nine years. He was the son of Elah.

2 Hoshea did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. But he wasn’t as evil as the kings of Israel who ruled before him.

3 Shalmaneser came up to attack Hoshea. Shalmaneser was king of Assyria. He had been Hoshea’s master. He had forced Hoshea to bring him gifts. 4 But the king of Assyria found out that Hoshea had turned against him. Hoshea had sent messengers to So, the king of Egypt. Hoshea didn’t send gifts to the king of Assyria anymore. He had been sending them every year. So Shalmaneser grabbed hold of him and put him in prison.

5 The king of Assyria marched into the whole land of Israel. He marched to Samaria and surrounded it for three years. From time to time he attacked it. 6 Finally, the king of Assyria captured Samaria. It was in the ninth year of Hoshea. The king of Assyria took the people of Israel away from their own land. He sent them off to Assyria. He settled some of them in Halah. He settled others in Gozan on the Habor River. And he settled still others in the towns of the Medes.

So ten of the twelve tribes disappeared, with the fall to the Assyrians in 722 BCE.

In the south, the remaining tribes remained until the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians carted off many, but not all of the Jews into captivity, where they remained until Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated them, and subsequently allowed the Jews to return home, and rebuild their temple.

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth has Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me; and he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Jehovah, the God of Israel he is God, which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever is left, in any place where he sojourns, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the freewill-offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2-4; cf. also 6:2-5).

As this was the history of Israel, it was the history that Jesus knew.

RICH PROPHETS?

We are not told much detail about the personal lives of the prophets, but Jewish custom tells us that Isaiah came from royal stock, Jonah had enough money to finance a trip to a distant country and Jeremiah didn’t appear to have any problems in buying $6,000 worth of land when God instructed him to (Jeremiah 32:9).

What about the Priests, and the Sanhedrin, at the time of Jesus?

The Priesthood

In first century Palestine there was no separation between church and state. The priests at the temple in Jerusalem not only officiated over the religious life of the Jews, they were also rulers and judges.

Herod, who was himself a pawn of Rome, had his own pawns installed in the Jewish priesthood. By the first century the election of the High Priest was more political than religious. The Romans wanted the priesthood to support their occupation, and the Herods made sure their desire was carried out. However, it would be unfair to categorize all of the priesthood as sympathetic to Rome. Some did support rebellion against Rome, but those at the highest levels were undoubtedly in Rome’s back pocket.

We see evidence of this loyalty to and fear of Rome in the Gospels:

“Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs.

If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’”(John 11:45-48)

“But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!’

Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’

Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away.” (John 19:15-16)

The priesthood lived in luxury well beyond that of the average man. They supported their lavish lifestyles with a temple tax which every Jew was required to pay. Richard Horsley in his book “The Message and the Kingdom” describes what archeologists have discovered about the living conditions of the priesthood.

“…impressive archeological remains of their Jerusalem residences show how elegant their lifestyle had become. In spacious structures unhesitantly dubbed ‘mansions” by the archeologists who uncovered them in the 1970’s, we can get a glimpse of a lavish life in mosaic floored reception rooms and dining rooms with elaborate painted and carved stucco wall decorations and with a wealth of fine tableware, glassware, carved stone table tops, and other interior furnishings and elegant peristyles.”

The priests lived lavish lifestyles while the average Jewish peasant struggled to survive. The temple taxes combined with taxes imposed by Herod and Rome were literally threatening the existence of the Jewish people. The people of the land were carrying a burden they could scarcely bear or tolerate. Palestine had become a powder keg waiting to ignite.

The priesthood was undoubtedly jealous of Jesus’ popularity, but their main motivation for seeking to kill Jesus was fear.  When a new king came to power, he would set his version of the priesthood in place. All this talk of Jesus becoming the new king undoubtedly unnerved the priests in Jerusalem. If Jesus came to power, they thought they would be out of a job or killed. And the Romans did not take too kindly to unauthorized kings. In their opinion, Jesus was inviting the wrath of Rome.  They did not understand that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world and his priesthood was not according to flesh and blood.

What were the various beliefs at the time of Jesus? Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.

The Pharisees

The Pharisees rose to prominence in what scholars call the second temple period. The Babylonians destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 587 BC. The time after the Jew’s return from exile is known as the second temple period. It was a time when the gentiles were constantly encroaching upon the Jewish people, their customs, and religion. The Pharisees were a group that set out to preserve the Jews from this perceived threat. The very name “Pharisee” is derived from the Hebrew word that means “to separate.”

The Sadducees

The Sadducees were of the wealthy ruling class in Jesus’ day. Many of them comprised the priesthood that controlled the temple in Jerusalem and the Jewish legal council called the Sanhedrin. They were in some ways more conservative than the Pharisees. They only recognized the Torah as the inspired word of God. They acknowledged neither the prophets nor the oral traditions that came after the first five books of the Bible. Consequently, they did not believe in the resurrection or any life after death. They were often at odds with the Pharisees over this matter.

The Essenes

In Jesus’ day some people wanted to fight Rome. Others wanted to live with Rome. The Essenes chose isolation as their response to the crazy first century world. They formed a community on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. There the Essenes thought they could live as the true people of God. They rejected the Herods, the temple, and even the Pharisees as corrupt. In their mind, only they were true Israel. They would create a pure community from which the Messiah would come forth to redeem Israel (They actually believed God would send two messiahs, one a priest and the other a king). They, the sons of light, would be the ones he would use to reestablish Israel. The impure Jews as well as the Gentiles were bound for destruction.

The gospels do not mention the Essenes. The Romans destroyed the Essene community before converging on Jerusalem. Many scholars believe the Essenes were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Sanhedrin

The Sanhedrin was considered the supreme court of ancient Israel. There were 71 members. They met every day in a building known as the Hall of Hewn Stones, which was built adjacent to the Temple.

The word Sanhedrin means “sitting together,” “council,” or “assembly.”

Needless to say, their judgment was instrumental in the deaths of Jesus and several of the apostles – including Stephen and James the Just.

Primary Duties

The primary responsibility of the Sanhedrin was to oversee the Temple service and make sure that everything was done in accordance with the Law.

They were responsible for answering all questions relating to religious law.They supervised various rituals and traditions.They set harvest tithes and rendered judgment in cases of adultery.They were in charge of the Jewish calendar.

The last independent ruler of Judea, Salome Alexandra (ca 67 B.C.E.), favored the Pharisees, and reorganized the Sanhedrin according to their wishes.  From that time onward, the Sanhedrin was the official “Supreme Court,” offering the last word on many judicial and religious issues.  (It probably goes without saying that there was much conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees from early on.)

Later on, Herod (37 B.C.E.) would stock the Sanhedrin with his favorites, who were pretty much at his beck and call.  But this would not last long.

So what did Jesus see in his own time? Politics, greed, unfair taxation, people ruled not only by Rome but also by the Jewish leaders, which ultimately meant that they were taxed twice. Can you imagine Jesus standing in the great temple in Jerusalem, recognizing it’s splendor, and knowing King David’s wish to build a home for his God, and for His people? Can you imagine his feelings in knowing that it was built partly on the back of slaves, and with money from plunder?

Can you imagine Jesus reaction to the peasant people of Israel, seeking to live a life in obedience, in the shadow of the lavish lifestyle of their own priests?

Could Jesus have gone for the wealthy lifestyle?

Yes. I believe he could have. He was a popular teacher, and he might have sought to be included in the hierarchy of the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin. I also believe that they would have accepted him, if he would simply accept the privilege that they apparently  they had learned.

I also believe that Jesus saw far more clearly how his people must have been willing to turn away from a religious system that kept them poor, and others rich. Did Jesus react to the failing faith by the people as a result of the example of their own leadership, past and present? I believe he did, and that is why his ministry was to the poor, just as mine should be.

Please note that if I am equating myself with Jesus; I am aligning myself with his lifestyle that holds wealth and power as the enemy of spirituality. It’s the old “God or mammon” argument.

Prov. 29:7. The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern.

Who is poor?

Although the World Bank established the most widely held and understood definition of poverty in strictly economic terms, the World Bank has also described poverty as follows:

Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom. Courtesy of Compassion International.

How Do the Poor Describe Poverty?

A survey conducted in Niger in 2002 by the Office of the Prime Minister asked the poor of that country to describe poverty. Their answers provided the following:

  • Dependence was mentioned by 40 percent of the respondents, with some noting that a poor person always had to “seek out others” or to “work for somebody else.”

  • Marginalization was noted by 37 percent, who defined a poor person as one who was “alone,” had “no support,” did “not feel involved in anything,” or was “never consulted.”

  • Scarcity was included in the poverty definitions of 36 percent, who used statements such as having “nothing to eat,” a “lack of means to meet clothing and financial needs,” a “lack of food, livestock and money,” and “having nothing to sell.”

  • Restrictions on rights and freedoms were associated with poverty by 26 percent of the respondents, who stated that “a poor person is someone who does not have the right to speak out” or “someone who will never win a case or litigation against someone else.”

  • Incapacity was mentioned in connection with poverty by 21 percent, including the incapacity to make decision, to feed or clothe oneself, or to act on one’s own initiative.

Only 36 percent of the poor in this survey described poverty in terms of material lack [scarcity]. Here, the poor described the experience of poverty primarily in terms of suffering relationships and lack of belonging, dignity and freedom. Similar descriptions were found in a major World Bank study published in 2000, Voices of the poor: Can anyone hear us?

The poor describe poverty in terms of suffering relationships. Relationships are central to a person’s belonging, identity, affirmation and other socio-emotional needs.

In America, as of October 2012. Source: US Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Commerce, CATO Institute.

Welfare Statistics

Total number of Americans on welfare

4,300,000

Total number of Americans on food stamps

46,700,000

Total number of Americans on unemployment insurance

5,600,000

Percent of the US population on welfare

4.1 %

Total government spending on welfare annually (not including food stamps or unemployment)

$131.9 billion

Compare this to American defense spending, according to The Washington Post:

U.S. defense spending is expected to have risen in 2012, to about $729 billion, and then is set to fall in 2013 to $716 billion, as spending caps start kicking in.

Was Jesus absolutely poor?

Remember the Christmas story? At least three  Kings  brought incredibly rich gifts at his birth. Also, wealthy women supported him and his 12 disciples throughout their ministry.

Although this is is true, I introduce it only to denounce those scoundrel TV ministers that tell us that God wants us all to be rich, as a way of rationalizing their own wealth….at the expense of their followers. Consider this, written by Ken Silva, in his work Joel Osteen and Prosperity Gospel.

“God wants you to go further than your parents” (p. 8).  This statement is made without a speck of biblical evidence.  On the contrary it was a rarity in Scripture to find a child who exceeded a godly or successful parent.  Further, the same is often true in our own experience – some children go further than their parents, others do not.  Osteen is making an unsupportable statement.

But not to be deterred we are told, “God wants you to live an overcoming life of victory.  He doesn’t want you to barely get by.  He’s called El Shaddai, ‘the God of more than enough’” On the contrary: El Shaddai is a title used for our Lord in the Old Testament which is often translated “God Almighty.”  It speaks of the all sufficiency of God, and is a special title of reverence.  Osteen has invented his own meaning and in the process turned God into our personal sugar daddy, ready to hand out the goodies to any who think they have discovered the secret to His heart.

By the way, a quick Internet search estimates Joel Osteen’s personal worth to be around 40 million bucks.

What does Jesus say about money?

Of the 39 parables that Jesus told, 11 were about money. That is more than the number of times that he taught us about heaven and hell! Why? Because apparently we have internal conflicts with money more than any other single issue.

My sole purpose for collecting and writing these words, is to speak to the issue that I hear people struggling with far more than other. As it was in Jesus time, so it is today.

Many of us struggle with these scriptures in particular:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13

“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 10:22

So here we are, as Americans. Affluent people with families, raised on the idea that we are to build careers that bring us comfort and status. Nice cars, and houses, and toys. Are Christian American’s required to turn our backs on this? Are we to to become Nomadic evangelists, living day by day? Are we to give up on the idea of huge weddings for our daughters, and the tremendous expense of a college education? Can we only get to heaven if we are poor? If so, where is the line between poor and rich?

Since I don’t really understand all of this myself, I will try to explain it to you. I will do so primarily by raising the questions that require our contemplation, and our prayers.

  • Is it wrong for me to want to raise my family in comfort and safety?

  • Isn’t it a requirement of good parenting to educate my children?

  • Am I really “rich”? I’m no Bill Gates.

  • Isn’t my tithe enough to keep me safe from judgement?

  • I work hard, don’t I deserve nice things?

“I have friends who keep telling me how much it costs them to keep me in poverty.”-Gandhi

Didn’t someone of means need to support Jesus and his fellow travellers, so that they could be about their work? Apparently so, it is only recorded twice that Jesus decided to miraculously create food, and that was for the crowds. He must also have depended on the hospitality of others. And not just for Himself, he had quite the travelling party!

The real struggle that I believe that we suffer from today is exactly the issue that Jesus preached to us about regarding money. It is my belief that Jesus, knowing our hearts, understands that we suspect that we have more than we need, possibly more than we deserve, but we don’t want to give anything up.

It is only by embracing this human weakness that we can find peace. It is really a fairly simple idea, but a daunting task. It is about balance, because surely we can serve only one master.

However, that is not to say that money is not an important issue, we just need to keep it, and it’s effects, in the proper place.

Too often, we compromise too heavily on the side of money and possessions. That is what makes us struggle so mightily. We know when we are out of balance, and it is impossible to hide from our own shame about it.

I make the following recommendations.

  • Do not sell ALL that you have and give it to the poor. Just some of it.

  • Do not invest so much of your time in creating wealth that you have no time left to enjoy it. The act of making money should never be your hearts desire.

  • Consider who your neighbor is, and share some of your wealth with them. We never identify our neighbors as people that we don’t believe are worthy of our help. By that I mean, know that your gift will help to bring good…not for charity that is undeserved.

  • If you suspect that perhaps you are giving away too little, then try giving away a little more. If it doesn’t hurt, try a little more. We seem to be unable to even consider “giving away all that we have,” so we do nothing, We are, however, capable of making continued incremental changes.

  • If you suspect that you work too much, and are therefore shortchanging your responsibilities to ministry or family, then try working less incrementally, to see if your work really suffers.. Compare the personal trade-off to the positives of increased ministry or family time. Keep in mind, that you didn’t always work too much, but it was the continued incremental increases in work time that created the sense of imbalance.

Could Jesus have chosen to be rich?

Yes, I think that he could have. He was a respected teacher, so much so that he became a threat to the ruling Sanhedrin. I don’t have to stretch my imagination too far to believe that he was offered a chance to be one of those seventy-one, and to enjoy “position” and greater wealth. He might have turned his head slightly to the thoughts of being a respected member of the intelligentsia. Also, he had a following. They would have respected (and feared) that.

However, in the vernacular of my youth, he chose to be a radical, rather than “selling out”.

His own words of priority should be enough to seek a balance, and stop being either anxious or ashamed of what we have and what we lack; what we give, and what we keep.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

A Final Thought

A final thought, for all of those that struggle with finding a sense of balance, or who feel constantly convicted and guilt-ridden by Jesus admonitions concerning the rich.

In Luke 16, we have the story of the rich man in purple and Lazarus. The rich man ignores the needs of poor Lazarus, even as he sees him outside the gates of mansion. In the end, they are divided by a great chasm that cannot be crossed over. Lazarus is in the arms of Abraham, the rich man in Hades.

There is no mention of the character of the rich man. It doesn’t say that he was wicked, cruel or immoral. All we know of him is that he is immensely wealthy and that he ignores the needs of others, even when their situation is placed at his door.

It’s not being rich that got him to Hades, it was his indifference to others; the unwillingness to share.

Jesus does not convict us for being wealthy. Consider this:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

How do we know if we have truly shared our wealth and our blessings properly as a child of God? How do we know the difference in giving enough to stay out of trouble, and being a sacrificial giver?

It’s easy. The heart knows.

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