War on Poverty

“For you have the poor with you always; and whenever you wish you may do them good; but me you do not have always” (Mark 14:7).
I have been in Bangladesh again for three weeks as I write this. Even before I departed the U.S. I was seeing on the news and in the papers that the monsoon rains had begun early in South Asia and were heavy. When I arrived I found flooding to be a problem, and during these past weeks it has increased to the point that it rivals past records. Two thirds of the land in the nation is affected, with over thirty million people either displaced from their homes or suffering from interruptions of drinking water and sewer services and food supply. Several hundred have died from the flood or from flood-caused disease. This weekend I will travel to Dhaka to distribute a small amount of relief funds to families of a congregation that have been displaced by the floods.
Jesus showed great compassion for the poor in his ministry on earth. Lazarus, a poor beggar, received his “good things” after this life ended ? those things which were denied him on earth (Luke 16:25). In his parable of the judgment, the righteous were shown to be those who gave food to the hungry and otherwise assisted the needy (Matthew 25:34,35). In the stories of great feasts, it was the poor who became the invited guests (Matthew 22:8-10).
Elsewhere in the Bible the duty to help the poor is emphasized as vital to “pure religion” (James 1:27). Christians are to “be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1), and to “learn to maintain good works” (Titus 3:14). “Good works” is a phrase often associated in the New Testament with helping the needy (Acts 9:36). The prosperous are to “do good … be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
Christianity has emphasized the need to help the poor from its very beginnings. Thousands of hospitals, relief organizations, orphanages and other benevolent works have been established by believers in Jesus. Yet poverty remains. No government, religion, or social system has succeeded in removing it, or even significantly reducing the numbers of the poor. Millions of people are hungry, homeless and largely helpless.
Natural disasters account for some of this. When floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes hit population centers, people are displaced and supplies of necessary things are interrupted. In places like South Asia, where the population is so large and natural disasters so frequent, this means that the people never completely recover, and need is always present. The flood of 2004 followed rapidly upon those of 1998, 1988, and many previous.
Some have taken the words of Jesus in Mark 14 to suggest resignation and acceptance of this situation. There will always be poverty, don’t worry so much about it. Do good when you can, but there are more important matters for the church to be involved in. I suggest that this is a misunderstanding of the context of Jesus’ statement. He chided the apostles for not doing the good deed available at the moment. If they were so concerned with the poor, why had they not already been helping them? It is easy to make excuses. “We cannot do this today, for there may be another and greater need tomorrow.” That seems to have been the attitude of the Twelve. Jesus refused to allow it. Rather he commanded, “Meet the need that is before you; do the good that you can do, now.”
Yes there are always the poor. And our responsibility is to love them and help them, whenever and wherever we can. We cannot remove poverty from this earth. But we can feed one family, educate one child, shelter one village. We must use the opportunities and the resources we have, not finding excuses in the impossibility of doing everything.

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