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Jesus and Poverty

By Andrew Lee

For some of us, “poverty” conjures thoughts and images of fellow human beings being poor because they have little finance resources to better themselves. But what if, instead of thinking of poverty as a financial problem that can be solved by giving money to where it is needed, we think of poverty in terms of broken relationships? As Colonel Bo Brekke stated, “People are poor because they live in disempowering relationships.”[1] A ‘poverty of being’ [2] that as human beings we accept unjust relationships as the norm because ultimately we forget that reconciliation with God involves a third party to the relationship; our ‘neighbours’.[3]

Our acceptance of normalcy of disempowering relationships start at home, where children suffer from domestic abuse (directly and indirectly). Disempowering relationships continue to occur when children bully and sexually harass other children in schools and on the internet.  Further unjust relationships can be found through illegal child labour or paying young people below the legislated wage in our workplaces. And it continues in our shopping as we purchase goods at low prices that provide little income to those who produce it.

In countries like Bangladesh, young women still produce hundreds of products every month in unsafe garment factories all to earn a monthly income equivalent to the retail price of a few high end shirts that a customer in Australia unthinkingly buys. Worse yet, young women are sold to human traffickers by their relatives to provide food for the rest of the family. They are trained and sent to brothels locally and overseas to “work” to pay off debts to their owners for their training.

God knows that we as human beings struggle righteously to maintain equal relationships. In Deuteronomy 15, He reminds us that there will always be poor people because we tend to fail to love our neighbours just as equally as we love ourselves.  Just as in John 12, Jesus reminds the disciples that even though their sins are forgiven through their relationship with God even when he leaves them, the temptation of sinning is ever present if the disciples forget the commandment and disempower others.[4]

So what if we think of poverty in terms of broken relationships, can it be fixed? It’s a lot more difficult than just donating money because mending relationship involves emotional investment and time. It is also going beyond forgiveness of “debts incurred” and actually contributing more to the relationship to get it back on a level footing. Just like in Deuteronomy 15 when God instructs the Israelites to cancel the debts, free the servants and supply them liberally so as not to send them away empty handed.

In the gospels Jesus acknowledged that children and young people should have equality of life.[5] Jesus rebukes the disciples from preventing the children to come to Him and we need to learn not to make the same mistake. For us to ensure that children do not live in a “poverty of being” because they face barriers, we need to acknowledge that we can do better, take action to make this world a safer place for children and young people.

Lieutenant Andrew Lee is a Southern Territory officer who is appointed to Bangladesh as a projects officer.

[1] Brekke, Bo (Colonel), “We are the Poor”, The Officer Magazine, April 2001,  London, The Salvation Army

[2] Ibid

[3] Refer to Matthew 22:36-40

[4] John 12:1-8

[5] Matthew 19:13-14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17, Mark 9:36-37, Luke 9:47-48