By Matt Cairns
“Anything you did for one of the least important of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40)
Today a whole lot of people will go without food because they live in abject poverty, millions of people actually. A whole lot of people will not be able to buy essential items because they are poor, millions of people actually. And millions will not be able to pay bills or buy clothes or afford suitable shelter and tomorrow millions will not again.
It is hard to think about the real-life numbers when it comes to the magnitude of poverty – but strangely it is even harder at times to think of the real-life people. We share statistics about poverty on social media and with government agencies and when school kids ring up to ask about poverty for an assignment. But rarely do we share real life with those affected by poverty.
Theologian Jean Vanier said “To live with Jesus is to live with the poor. To live with the poor is to live with Jesus” and this profound statement needs to challenge us in how we engage poverty in our communities and in the wider world.
Nowhere in the gospels do we read of an encounter where Jesus met a person in poverty and then he goes on to say “Now disciples, here is just one of 1.2 million people living in poverty, and if nothing is done about it, then by this time next year the number living in poverty will be 1.6 million, and of those about a quarter will be children. It is terrible and we need to do something about this. How can we get this horrendous statistic down?”
No – instead Jesus lived with the poor, never engaging them as numbers but always as people, inherent with value and dignity. In Luke 6:20 Jesus exclaims “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” and instantly rejects the classism of the day which saw the poor as second-class citizens, instead telling all that the poor are favoured by God. Jesus’ many examples of healing people were means of helping with the root cause of their poverty, whether that be blindness, leprosy, bleeding, or whatever ailment had struck them, keeping them from actively participating in society. In Luke 16 Jesus challenges us to breakdown the normal socioeconomic barriers by inviting the poor into our lives by saying “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”
Jesus lived with the poor, seeing them as people and not a problem. He engaged with them in life, sharing meals, stories, and the ups and downs of life. He saw the worth in them as individuals, and the impact they could have for the Kingdom. We need to do likewise – yes we need to understand the facts and figure – but we need to do more and move past the numbers and into the real lives of those in poverty. For as we do so, we will find that as we live amongst the poor, we will discover, as Vanier says, that Jesus lives there too.