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It’s surprising how often a simple point about Jesus of Nazareth is overlooked — he lived as a poor man, ministered as a poor man, was crucified as a poor man, and — according to Christians — rose from the grave as a poor man. The man that Christians everywhere embrace as savior lived as one of the impoverished.
So what would this homeless Jesus say to us today?
“I have nowhere to lay my head.”
For those who have much, it is difficult to understand the lives of those who have little. We have trouble fully comprehending what life is like on the other side of the poverty line. But Jesus understood it:
As they were going along the road, someone said to [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man [being Jesus] has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:57–58).
Jesus was born in an impoverished region and traveled as an impoverished minister. He relied on God and the love of others to provide for his needs. Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. There is sadness in this statement, but there is also hope. It makes me sad for Jesus, but in my empathy for Christ, I am learning to have even more empathy for those who are hurting.
“Like the impoverished and persecuted, I suffered.”
In Jesus, God experienced the full spectrum of human suffering.
And about the ninth hour [when on the cross] Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying . . . “My God, my God, what have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, a dark and tragic poem of lament. In doing so, he is telling the world, “I am the ultimate sufferer.” A later biblical author reflects on this idea, noting that Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses — and as such, meet our needs (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Jesus calls his followers to give to those in need because he knows their pain. Christians should walk alongside the suffering in their pain and difficulties as an acknowledgement of the fact that we all need God and one another.
“All of you are impoverished.”
The Bible shows that all of humanity is impoverished, so in that sense we’re all the same. Those in physical poverty wear their poverty on their sleeves, while those of us in spiritual poverty hide it in our hearts. In one of Jesus’ most famous sermons, he said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:3-6)
Those who acknowledge that they are out of alignment with God and others — that they are poor in spirit — are the ones who are part of Jesus’ kingdom. Those who mourn can find comfort in serving God. Those who are meek — who show humility by serving others in kindness — receive blessings now (that’s likely what Jesus meant by “the earth”). Those who seek to live right before God and do right by others find satisfaction in their efforts.
When we labor on behalf of those who have lost their loved ones, are humble in our approach, and live rightly, we see a piece of heaven here on earth. We experience the beauty of God’s intent for humanity.
“Live what you believe.”
For Jesus, what people do with their beliefs is as important as what they believe. He wouldn’t tolerate apathy, and he won’t tolerate just talking faith without doing it. Jesus loves belief-filled actions, as this saying to a wealthy young man shows:
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21; see 19:16–30). The man walks away sorrowful. Jesus then says these famous lines: “Truly I say to you that with difficulty a rich person will enter into the kingdom of heaven! And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23–24)
For Jesus, responding in faith means setting aside whatever stands between you and God. For this man, it was his wealth. He wasn’t ready to live what he believed — he wasn’t ready to sacrifice his desires for the needs of the impoverished. Giving beyond our means to do so is a necessary step for the Christian.
“I loved the world. Do you?”
In reading Jesus’ sayings about our impoverished natures — and how much following Jesus actually requires — it’s easy to simply deem everything around us evil and remove ourselves from it all. It’s likewise easy to systemize Jesus’ sayings into something to live up to — to make it all very religious. I think both responses are the opposite of what Jesus would want.
Jesus calls Nicodemus, a religious leader, into a relationship with him so the man could experience an authentic relationship with God. John 3:16-17 quotes Jesus as saying:
“For God so loved the world the he gave his only Son [being Jesus], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Jesus’ currency is different from ours. Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice, and his currency is love. For Jesus, belief and actions are one and the same — you cannot have one without the other. We need to do more than say we love the world. We need to actually love it through our actions.
In reflecting on the problem of poverty and what Jesus said about it, I’ve realized that we all own the problems of the impoverished as much as they do. We are all at fault for the state of our world, but we can also change it.
We can work to alleviate corruption by funding healthy churches. These churches can provide ethical training for their community and serve as models of the ideas Jesus practiced. We can also fund microloans to create jobs. We can buy fair-trade products. We can meet basic needs (like access to clean water and medical care) through our giving.
Jesus believed that belief is about action. Why don’t more of us?
Image courtesy of Michael Swan.