God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
- Those bums are LAZY, and you can’t fix LAZY!
- Those people WANT to live like that.
- They don’t want to change.
- Some people just don’t like to WORK.
- When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Which of these quotes comes from the Bible? Need to look it up? (Here’s a hint: Matthew 9:36)
If you guessed the bottom one, you guessed right. But how many Christians can you quote by saying the top four? How many Christians can you quote saying the last one? How about the bold print statement at the header? (It’s not in the Bible either.)
Is it possible that we Christians have our alms, charity, and heart-for-the-poor all jacked up? Do we have our Kingdom agenda mixed up in some other political agendas and try to pass it off as righteous?
To the extent that we lay claim to the Bible, I think we do have it jacked up. But in today’s church, it seems the Bible is optional really, for we can make plenty of conservative sound bytes serve our purpose whether they really come from the Bible or not, and when they do come from the Bible, we ditch the biblical context and force them to serve our contempt for the poor rather than the poor Jesus loves.
A few years ago, I started looking for biblical sound bytes we might use to counteract this trend. I pored over my Bible afresh seeking real biblical evidence. At one point, I took a Strong’s Concordance (and other research tools) and looked up every instance of words like “lazy”, “sluggard”, “poor”, “poverty”, “needy”, “orphan, widow, sojourner”, and so forth. I found every use of these words in several translations – yeah, I was thorough.
I really thought I would find poverty blamed on laziness – especially in the book of Proverbs. I can say with confidence that Proverbs has more to say about laziness than any other book. Some of the more notable passages say, “How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – Your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man” (Prov. 6:9-11; 24:32-34). Sure enough poverty is blamed on laziness in these two proverbs, but it is blamed on injustice too (13:23). While there are lots of observations made about laziness (10:4, 26; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 24; 20:4; 24:30-34; 26:13-16) – always with negative connotation, there is very little blame against the poor themselves for their own predicament. On the contrary, all through the Bible (including the Proverbs) we find exhortation to care for the poor!
But the most common Bible verse I hear quoted on this subject (after all, some people do take the biblical option) comes from St. Paul’s second letter to Thessalonica, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (II Thess. 3:10). This text lifted out of the context in Thessalonica and blanketed over homeless people on our city streets sounds biblical, but is that really fair? Especially when I can quote dozens of passages that would seem to contradict St. Paul there if we disregarded context so easily!
What Does God Say? What If We Let Him Set The Agenda?
The two most famous passages regarding treatment of the poor and needy in the New Testament (on the lips of Jesus, no less) are the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Judgement of Goats and Sheep (Matt. 25:31-46). I am quick to note that the Matthew-25 passage is really about eternal Judgment, and how our care for the poor determines whether we join the sheep or the goats! This passage is that important!
Considering that eternal Judgment hangs in the balance, it would seem Christian types would want to take this post seriously. Considering that eternal Judgment hangs in the balance, it would seem Christian types might not want to make such flippant remarks as those listed at the top! Considering that eternal Judgment hangs in the balance, it would seem that Christian types would want to explore the Scriptures carefully to discern what God has to say.
Yes, we must take St. Paul’s remarks seriously, but also within context so that we don’t contradict the words of Jesus or any other part of the Bible. And considering how little the Bible actually says in judgment of the poor and/or lazy, but on the contrary how much it has to say about caring for the poor, we must not let the tail wag the dog with a couple of biblical sound bytes, but rather dive into the depth of God’s love for the poor and needy.