Generally, Christians agree that we should be agents who care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. There are plenty of verses in the Bible that herald this truth. However, the majority of us tend to give money to various churches, organizations, individuals, etc. and let that be the extent of our care for the poor. Brothers and Sisters we are not called to be individuals who give to the poor from afar, but we are to have community with the poor, giving and receiving from one another.
2 Corinthians 8:8-15 “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give you my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’”
The Community of Faith cannot properly flourish if it is not woven into the lives of the poor.
1. Christ creates the Community of Faith by becoming poor.
Jesus is our example, “for though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”. He created the Christian Community by becoming poor so that others may become rich.
Christ could have chosen to remain an “individual” in heaven, helping us from a comfortable distance, but He chose to enter into community with the materially and spiritually poor in order to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.
2. Freely Giving
“And in this matter I give you my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.” We are to give of our resources and ourselves not out of guilt, pride, or duty, but out of the change of heart that only God can give through the Gospel.
We must enact redistribution and social justice in the Community of Faith. However, this is not done through the state but we must freely give out of the joy that has been given to us. We do not worship the empire of man, we worship the Risen King. The Christian Community is where liberty and equality meet.
“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.” True Community is a reciprocal relationship not a one-way street. We can easily see that marriages and friendships do not function properly if one person does all the giving and the other, the receiving. Why then do we forget this in our churches and communities?
Serving the poor from afar and merely giving sermons does not create community. We must provide opportunity for each party to offer the gifts they have been given, and not to stifle them by creating dependency and inferiority complexes while puffing ourselves up as “saviors”.
Acts 4:34-35 “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” Those that sold their land did not give the proceeds and walk away but they stayed within the community. The land owners had no more need after they sold everything than those who benefited from their gifts, as “there was not a needy person among them”. The Christian Community is where liberty and equality meet.
We should strive to help others give through their unique gifts and abilities. In Acts 20:35 Paul states the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In the past I took this verse to mean that I should serve but never accept anything in return. I asked myself what good it was if I was given something for my service. But if it is better to give than to receive then one of the best things we can give others is the opportunity for them to give of themselves and not rob them of the joy of giving that we experience. Yes when we serve the poor they may not be able to serve us in the same way, but they can always serve in their own way. In being invited over for a meal from a great cook, told intimate personal life stories, and teaching me how to build with my hands, I have received many gifts from the poor. It is in these times that I have been the most joyful, and I have experienced the greatest sense of community.
We do not prey on the poor, only expecting to receive, but we also do not simply give when we want and walk away. We are to love and serve one another.
4. Our response to Christ?
We then are to respond to the incarnation of Christ (the giving of Himself) by the offering of ourselves back to Christ.
Acts 17:24-25 “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Unlike us, Christ does not need anything. However, believers are brought into community with Christ through His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus created the ability for us to give of ourselves by serving Him through the lives of the poor.
Matthew 25: 31-40 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King with say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”