Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Poverty is a changing concept. It was once thought to represent the lack of food for sustenance or a water to wash or a change of clothes or a roof out of the elements. My father talked of men in the depression riding the rails. They were hungry and only had the shirt on their back. In Indian the poor were homeless and begged for food. In Morrocco I saw the emaciated bodies of starvation and disease thrown into the street to be picked up by carts. The poverty that is spoken of in the Bible is that kind of poverty.
The poverty line is defined as the minimum level of income deemed necessary to achieve an adequate 'standard of living'. Note the words "adequate" and "standard of living". It is significant that the poverty line is much 'higher' in developed countries and in developing countries. In contrast the "international poverty line" has been $1 a day. Therefore it's important to understand that when people talk of poverty, especially in Canada, they may be referring to something widely different from what 'poverty' is understood by many. It's a highly "political term" and commonly used as a 'marketing device'.

That said I am interested in a Biblical statement attributed to Jesus, "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want."

What measure of 'poverty' is Jesus using?

I know that people who have cars, high priced housing, health and dental care, education and free time and privileges they call "rights" but all manner of food and clothing and travel that were beyond the grasp of my farmer grandparents. They would be considered 'rich' today by the majority of the world. Yet they claim 'poverty'.

I feel 'poor' alot myself but like to remember my friend who told me he and his sister plotted to kill his parents because of the 'shame' of their impoverishment. They had a mansion and acres of land in a division where everyone had pools and tennis courts and mercedes and rolls like they did. They had a maid and nanny and tutors and were to most very fortunate. However they felt "poor". "We really thought we were poor and we blamed it on my father, " my friend said. All the neighbors had got helicopters that year and put in helicopter pads. Dad wouldn't do that. He said it was the noise. Mom had said something about him not making enough money for her tastes that year as their weekend shopping in Paris had been postponed. So my sister and I thought we should kill him because we were poor and he was so mean."

Poverty is a relative standard. I know that personally no matter how much "grace" I've experienced I always feel poor. Once I have something I want something else. Trungpa the great buddhist teacher calls that the 'western' consumer mind. It's insatiable. Recently I've been afraid I won't have enough 'insurance' for old age and that not having a pension I'll be pushing a Safeway cart in 30 years.

Is this what Jesus was referring to. Or was he using the word 'poverty' as it was understood in his day. Hungry. Homeless.

Overseas so much of the poverty I saw was political. In Mexico it was so obvious that the distribution of wealth was outrageous with a very few extremely wealthy and countless with hardly enough to eat. I hear of similar states in China and Russia. There is wealth in the community but it's only in a very few hands. Working in the downtown east side in Vancouver the majority of the poverty I encounter isn't sociological in that sense but a product of 'distribution of wealth' by individuals. Some of the individuals I see spend $200 to $400 a day on drugs and without money left over for food or shelter starve on the streets. This is very different from a person I just saw who'd lived in a refugee camp in Africa after another tribes soldiers killed her family and forced her to flee.

Was this the poverty Jesus was talking about. The poverty of fear and poor decisions and the politics of war and hate.

When he spoke these words he was referring to a woman who poured fine perfume on him. He said to his disciples , "You will not always have me".

I would consider myself poorer today were it not for my relationship with God and Jesus. I am thankful for my Bible. But then I'm thankful for God's grace so abundantly apparent to me when I have eyes to see. Please God protect me from my own poverty.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Roderick Mackin said...

Some believe that a false modesty and self-abasement are the fulfillment of being poor in spirit.

Jesus never recommended monasticism, the complete abasement of the human body and retreat from society. The Bible tells us that we are to be part of society, although we are to be different from the sinfulness of the world.

We also can become conceited in our humility that we become "humble and proud of it.

Jesus is also not talking about those who would mentally flagellate themselves and have a "poor me" attitude. Christianity is a positive religion that declares, "with God for us we will be victorious.

What then does it mean to be poor in spirit? It is a person that has spiritual poverty. This the person who realizes that he or she cannot save themselves, that they are without an ability to glorify themselves.

The spiritually poor have a keen sense of their own sinfulness and need for God's grace.

Luke 18:13 - "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."

haykind said...

Well said.