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04 October 2006 @ 02:58 pm
Giving to the Poor - What's the point anyway?  
Upcoming AoA literature by yours truly...

We all know there are countless teachings throughout Scripture to care for the poor. The biblical mandate is so important that when a rich young man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him, “Go sell everything you have and give the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And yet elsewhere Jesus tells us that the poor will always be with us – leaving some of us to question: “Why we should even try to eliminate poverty if it is so impossible?”

Through this lens, fighting poverty and injustice can often seem discouraging, fruitless, and even pointless. But I wonder how often we consider how giving to the poor and seeking justice for the oppressed actually enriches us and transforms our lives through the process.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit a poor rural community in Swaziland, a country in southern Africa where more than 40 percent of the population lives with HIV. There, the average life expectancy is less than 33 years old and more than 70 percent of the people live on less than $1 per day. When I visited Swaziland, I expected to find a community of hopelessness – a community that I needed to fix. But what I found instead was a community of faith, solidarity, and hope with a strong leadership base capable of transforming their own community. All they needed was our support, friendship, and resources to help them meet their needs.

My faith was encouraged through their faith in the midst of extreme poverty. When I returned, I found that the U.S. was suffering its own epidemic of poverty. While this community in Swaziland suffered from economic poverty, I found that my community suffered from relational and spiritual poverty. We suffered from epidemics of apathy in culture and self-righteousness in attitude.

When Jesus told the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, he left in shame because he was unwilling to give up his great wealth to follow Christ. Jesus then tells his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. You see, the rich young man determined that his own comfort and earthly treasures were more important than a life of service toward God and toward others.

I wonder how much our Western Christianity is reduced to a self-serving faith of earthly treasures and comforts. We accumulate a life that simply becomes too great to surrender to Christ. Jesus’ own life reveals an example of humble service and surrender for others--even to the point of death. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

There are several other accounts where Jesus asks people to follow him and they respond by leaving behind their old lives, careers or possessions, and even their families in order to enter into a full life of service with Christ. We are not told they were rewarded with earthy treasures or fortunes. In fact, many of them were persecuted or even died for their faith. But each entered into fullness of life, replacing selfish wants and possessions with greater intimacy and love for God and for others. Are we willing to become poor in order to serve the poor?

Just by living in the US, we are among the richest 10 percent of the world. How would our lives be transformed if we began seeing our service toward God and others as more important than our earthly possessions and desire? Could we also be transformed into a community of faith, solidarity, and hope like the one I visited in Swaziland?

In serving the poor, our goal is not to export our own culture of material things and possessions. Rather, our goal should be to befriend and support our brothers and sisters as they combat the poverty, disease, and injustices that affect their ability to experience fullness of life. In doing so, we may just uncover the poverty, disease, and injustices that affect our own fullness of life too.
aligaz on January 17th, 2007 02:54 am (UTC)
Acting on AIDS
James, I found your page through a really roundabout way...but I'm trying to find out who the leaders of the Acting on AIDS chapter on the SPU campus are these days. I work with high school students and I'm trying to get ahold of a copy of "A Closer Walk", and I'm wondering if they'd be willing to lend it for a day and a half...can you direct me to who I might talk to?

Thanks...that's what you get for having your name all over the internet :)