The Feeding of the Five Thousand by William Hole (1846-1917). Culture Club / Contributor / Getty Images
There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.
— Mahatma Gandhi
ACCORDING to American political satirist and Cato Institute’s H. L. Mencken Research fellow Patrick Jake O’Rourke, “you can’t get rid of poverty by giving people money.”
This is because poverty is the result of people’s selfishness and greed. Moreover, it is not ‘fate’, as some would say, nor is the fault of the poor, who in some cases, despite their perseverance, end up with nothing as a result of their hard work and tireless efforts to succeed in life.
And Pope Francis has pointed out in his message for the World Day of the Poor in November that “unless we choose to become poor in passing riches, worldly power and vanity, we will never be able to give our lives in love; we will live a fragmented existence, full of good intentions but ineffective for transforming the world.”
From this we realize that each of us must open ourselves decisively to the grace of the Lord Jesus, which can make us witnesses of his boundless charity and restore credibility to our presence in the world. After all, Jesus had always sided with the poor and he “shares their lot” when he lived 33 years of his human life on earth before his death on the cross more than 2,000 years ago.
But what did Jesus really teach about wealth and poverty?
Perhaps our readers may think that Jesus discouraged wealth and promoted a lifestyle of poverty and self-denial. Perhaps you believe that Jesus encouraged wealth, as many prosperity gospel advocates assume. Or, maybe you fall somewhere in-between.
The answer to this question matters because it gets to the very heart of who Jesus is and what the Bible as a whole teaches about wealth and poverty.
We would have difficulty in demonstrating how Jesus favored either the possession of wealth or a state of poverty in his practice and teaching, at least not to the exclusion of the opposing condition. The fact is that though economic matters frequently arose in Christ’s life and ministry, he gave no systematic, detailed economic plan to his followers. Rather, Jesus’ example and teachings on wealth and poverty are wide-ranging and the Gospel writers usually emphasize their spiritual impact. In truth, the economic citations from Christ’s life and ministry are often peripheral to the main point of the narratives in which they occur.
Nevertheless, we can summarize the main emphases of Jesus’ economic ethic from his teaching in two key themes, for believers to care for the poor and to realize that wealth can be a stumbling block to spirituality.
In the first theme, the Old Testament emphasis on caring for the poor is readily apparent in the ministry of Christ. Poverty itself is not presented in the Gospels—or anywhere in Scripture, for that matter—as being inherently sinful. During his incarnation, Jesus was relatively poor, at times voluntarily so, yet was without sin (see 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). However, the Bible does recognize the causes and effects of poverty to be oftentimes sinful. Therefore, believers ought to work to alleviate involuntary poverty, for doing so is both Christ-like and in accord with the gospel.
In the second theme, believers need to be on guard against the temptations of material wealth. This emphasis complements the notion of caring for the poor, for if wealth is not idolized, then ministering to the needy becomes a natural application of right stewardship. This theme is evident in one of Jesus’ most well-known economic statements—his reflection upon interacting with the rich, young, ruler in Matthew, Chapter 19 Verse 23: “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus also inferred that wealth can be a potential spiritual stumbling block when he traveled about Israel calling his disciples. They voluntarily left their material goods in order to follow him (see Matt. 19:27; Mark 1:18; 10:28). This appears to be a prerequisite, of sorts, for all of Jesus’ followers, for when instructing a great crowd outside of Jerusalem, Christ taught, in Luke, Chapter 14 Verse 33: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Christ can be found in the poor, and, therefore, their material poverty “should motivate us to creative planning, aimed at increasing the freedom needed to live a life of fulfillment according to the abilities of each person.”
In ending, we agree with what Pope Francis said: “We cannot wait for the poor to knock on our door; we need urgently to reach them in their homes, in hospitals and nursing homes, on the streets and in the dark corners where they sometimes hide, in shelters and reception centers. It is important to understand how they feel, what they are experiencing and what their hearts desire.” (ai/mtvn)