How do we treat the poor in our midst?
“Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing and he cry out to the Lord against you and it became sin among you. You shall surely give to him and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land”, (Deut. 15:9-11).
It does seem that the poor are an endangered species in our midst. With the current recession unless a helping hand is given them, your imagination or guess will be as good as mine. However, Moses was aware that the poor will always be in the land, so he recommended that during the feast of ingathering or Tabernacle, the poor Israelites are to enjoy cancellation of their debts (loans).
To this end, he beckoned on the people of Israel to pardon, cancel, and to write off debts owed to them at the seventh year. He added, if this was done the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. Notice, Moses’ tone of appeal was very touching. He said, those to cancel debts are not to be wicked but to be open-minded and to be generous in order to lighten the burden on the shoulders of their poor brothers. Moses was confident as he recalls how God delivered His people in the wilderness and made them later to settle in the land flowing with milk and honey. If God was able to do this for their own good, they owe it as a duty to extend same to their fellow Israelite brothers who are not fortunate but poor and needy.
Instructively, according to the scripture God loves the poor. Read: Proverb’s 17:5; 22:9; 29:7. Jesus also showed His love for the poor, in Luke 4:18: He declared: “the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, to bring the good-news to the poor”. He also told His hearers to extend their invitation to the poor although they may not be in a position to pay back, (Luke 14:12-14; 21). Impliedly, the poor should be the concern of the well to do members of the society.
However, let it be stated that the love for the poor was also seen in the early Church as there was no needy person among them: (Acts 2:45, 4:32-34). This then should be the spirit in the Church of today and amongst believers. But someone may ask: is it really so? What is the Church of today doing about the poor or the members for the welfare of the needy, less privileged in their midst? I am sure that God is not happy.
He expects that we should be concerned individually and collectively for the plight of the poor for “He made the poor”. Unfortunately, it was tight fistedness and love for possession and luxury that made Jesus to give the parable about the
“Richman and Lazarus”. In the story that is only recorded in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus started by saying that there was a certain Richman who lived in luxury. Originally, no name was given about this certain Richman.
However, later, some people came up with a name for this Richman and they called him “Dives”. Accordingly, “Dives” in Latin Vulgate simply means ‘Richman’. A man who lived in luxury as depicted by his social status. He was not aware of the scriptural warning “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeits his soul”, (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36). On the other hand, the Richman had a poor man at his gate named Lazarus. Bible commentators said that this Lazarus was different from the one Jesus raised from the dead in John 11. For this Lazarus in Hebrew means “God is my help”. He was poor and desired that what fell from the Richman’s table could be a succor to his pitiable state. But this he could not receive and later both died. At death, the idea of heaven and hell became imperative. Impliedly, people decide here on earth where to spend their eternity. The question that now comes to mind is: have you made your choice for eternity?
Understandably, from the Richman’s story, if he had extended help, care to Lazarus, it is possible he could not have ended in hell. His request of Abraham to send poor Lazarus to quench his thirst and for someone to be sent to go and minister to his five brothers betrayed his knowledge about heaven and hell. Of course, he was reminded that a great chasm existed between heaven and hell. This defies the political understanding of cross carpeting. Na waooo!!! Please, ponder over this scriptural demand from elder James briefly: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world”, (James 1:27).
Therefore, God is calling us again today to think about the poor, the needy and the less privileged in our midst. We need to give them succour. We should be open handed and generous. We need not to be wicked or tight fisted as some would do. Rather, the poor needs our help. As a child of God, we should hearken to the heart beat of God to lighten the burden of the down trodden and the poor. As we respond, may I urge us to what is written in the holy writ “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven”, (Matt 5:16).
Ven. Ernest Onuoha
Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.
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