Poverty, Blessings, and Woes
Privilege vs Poverty
I was born in a life of privilege. I had two loving parents, lived in suburbia, attended good schools, had good food to eat, a solid “middle class” upbringing. I did not lack anything important. I did nothing on my own to live that life of privilege.
Since my childhood, I have worked hard, attended colleges, earned degrees, held significant positions in my vocation. While all of that took effort on my part, I was, in no small part, able to attain the status of “middle class” success because I was born to privilege in the first place.
Children in Poverty
Not everyone in our country is born into a life of privilege. According to the 2020 census, 1 in 7 children live in poverty, about 11 million children. They have not been born into a life of privilege. The past two years, in particular, have been tough for these children as many depend on school for one good meal a day. Their education suffered because their access to technology was limited. And their parents, struggling to keep jobs, even low-paying ones, had to choose between working and watching their children at home while schools were closed. These children do not have the same choices I had as a child; they don’t have the same resources, the same opportunities, their dreams of the future are limited by their bleak surroundings.
Poverty and Minimum Wage
The statistics for adults are also grim. Over a MILLION paid workers, age 16 and older, in our country, make at or less than $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage. That means if they work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks in the year, they earn less than $15,000 in a year.
Interestingly, if these million people were single, they would NOT be counted in the statistics for poverty since their whopping $15,000 is more than $2000 over the “line” drawn to determine poverty. And consider this — the median cost of renting a 1-bedroom apartment in the United States is $1180, multiplied by 12 months, $14,160. That leaves just $840 a YEAR if you work for minimum wage for food, health care, transportation, and additional schooling to improve marketability. For these MILLION workers, poverty is a vicious cycle, a catch-22, a sticky web from which it is almost impossible to break free.
Why this focus on privilege and poverty?
What the Gospel of Luke says
Our pastor preached from Luke 6:17-26 the past two weeks. (The links to the sermons are at the bottom of this post). These blessings and woes are stark –
Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich,Luke 6:20-26
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
What the critic says
Maybe you have heard someone say something like this critic that Scott Sauls, Senior Pastor Christ Presbyterian Church Nashville, refers to in an essay –
Several years ago, after preaching a sermon on Christians’ responsibility toward the poor, I received an email accusing me of not appreciating those who “worked for a living.” According to my critic, I had also failed to realize that poor people are poor because they are lazy. If they would stop milking the system, apply themselves, get educated, and go find a job like the rest of us, their problems would be solved and the world would be a better place.Jesus Honored the Poor. Do we?, essay by Scott Sauls
What the critic is missing
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.1 John 3:16-18
Honestly, I think the critic might be totally unaware. I recently heard someone say that when passing a homeless woman, “she just needs to go into any of these places looking for employees and apply for jobs!” But that woman isn’t clean; she is hungry, she lacks skill. She may not have transportation, appropriate clothing and may not even know how to read enough to complete an application. She may not be mentally healthy enough, possess enough self-esteem to present herself as able to do a job. When we haven’t experienced the hardships of poverty or homelessness, we might simply be naïve.
What is our responsibility?
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”Luke 3:10-14
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’Matthew 25:37-40
Our responsibility is to love our neighbors, to take care of one another as much as it is within our power to do so. We can avoid being hardhearted or tight-fisted. If we have “more than we need,” we are invited to open our hands, give generously, and share readily. Individually, we cannot “solve” all the issues inherent in poverty. But we can do our part, lessen the load for those we meet along the way, support local, even worldwide efforts that address poverty.
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.Deuteronomy 15:7-8
How will we respond?
We take seriously the sermons we hear. We believe since God planted us in the local church under the pastor’s ministry, he speaks words we need to hear. We are prayerfully considering how to support the poor in our community more effectively. We already do some things, but what else might God be calling us to in light of these recent messages?
How about you? How might you examine your heart, your attitudes towards the poor, to love our fellow humans well in the name of Jesus?
Actually, the scripture speaks much to poverty and wealth – much more than this one post can address. Check out these two sermons at Christ Church Cedar Park:
These are such helpful words! My family didn’t have much when I was little and became more stable in third grade. When I got married, my husband was in grad school, and we had very little, but it was different as “academic poverty” is just for a season and (Lord willing) there’s a good job on the other side.
Paul says in Philippians 4 “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound,” and that has always rung true for me based on my experience. God provides in both. But it’s so necessary to check ourselves against too much comfort; it’s amazing how it creeps up.