The Church and the Poor
A few years ago I listened to a mixed-race pastor who leads a multiethnic congregation in an impoverished neighborhood. He spoke about the challenges of his ministry. One of the challenges he discussed was the need to balance dignity and charity. The need for charity was very real where he served. Many people did not have enough food, adequate clothing, or a safe place to live. He needed to meet their real needs but respect and nurture this dignity.
This challenge is always before those in Christian leadership. The poor, either in our congregation, or the broader community, are an ever-present challenge. We are to give to them. However, the poor, and all of us with them, are created in the image of God. We are to respect them and encourage the expression of this image. Work and creativity were part of human life before the first sin of Adam and Eve. We were put on earth, in part, to work. We work and create in stewardship of our talents and the creation that God entrusted to us.
I was recently reminded by reading a student’s paper of a passage of Scripture that shows this challenge and a balanced response.
Ruth, a woman from Moab, married a Jewish man whose family left Bethlehem during a famine. Bethlehem translates as “house of bread.” They left the “house of bread” in the Promised Land to seek a better life among a cursed nation of Gentiles. Their decision is a small picture of life during the discouraging times of the Judges. (Ruth 1:1-5; Deuteronomy 23:3-6)
Ruth’s husband, his brother and her father-in-law died in Moab. Her mother-in-law heard that the famine was over. She told her daughters-in-law to stay with their families and she would return to Bethlehem. One returned to her family but Ruth insisted on going with Naomi to Bethlehem. (Ruth 1:6-22)
Boaz was a descendant of Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who trusted in the God of Israel. She was spared during the destruction of Jericho. He was a successful farmer in Bethlehem. (Ruth 2:1-7 Joshua 2:1-7; 6:22-25; Matthew 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25)
Boaz obeyed the provision of the Mosaic law and allowed the poor to glean while his fields were being harvested. He respected their dignity and allowed them to work so they could provide for themselves and their families. He was generous to Ruth and provided a meal beyond the provisions of the law. He also gave her grain that she did not earn. He protected her reputation. He was also an advocate for her to receive her legal rights. He guaranteed them himself when another who had responsibility would not give them to her. (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; Ruth 2:1-23; 3:1-18; 4:1-12)
Ruth was a poor widow and a foreigner. Boaz did not reject her because of her poverty. He married her and their great-grandson was King David and they are ancestors of Messiah. (Ruth 4:13-22; Matthew 1:5)
What can you and I do individually to help those in need and respect their dignity at the same time?
How can we influence governments and other agencies to help those in need and respect their dignity at the same time?
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