Jesus came to the one stoplight town of Nain with his disciples just as a funeral procession exited the city gates on its way to the graveyard. A widow trailed behind a casket, following her boy – her only boy – to his final resting place.
Jesus suffered with her, his heart filled with compassion. He told her not to cry and then walked over to the boy and yelled at him, “Wake up!” And he did.
Five thousand men and their families were hungry. Jesus, knowing what he was about to do, asked Phillip how they would get fed. Philip said it would take half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for a crowd that size.
Jesus fed them with a boy’s sack lunch. And there was plenty left over.
Deliverance of the poor in action
A widow without a son to care for her would be left to beg for food or support herself by some other degradation. Jesus not only brought the widow’s only son back to life, but gave her life as well, delivering her from poverty into enough.
If Craig Blomberg is correct (Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (New Studies in Biblical Theology)), then the majority of Jews living in Palestine in the days of Jesus were living in abject poverty – without daily bread. Many in the crowd following Jesus that day may have been hungry for some time. But even if this speculation is untrue, they were in need of food – this much we know – and Jesus fed them, delivering them from poverty into enough.
Again and again in the gospels, Jesus heals and provides in such a way that delivers the poor (widows, sick beggars, prostitutes and the like) into enough and teaches his disciples to do the same. Jesus taught against the wealthy of his day too, seemingly even blaming them at times for the plight of the poor.
Deliverance of the poor in teaching…
John the Baptizer said “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” and told tax collectors and soldiers to stop stealing from the poor (Luke 3:10-12, Matthew 3:1-10). Jesus called John “more than a prophet” partly because he wasn’t dressed in finery like kings in their palaces (Luke 7:24-30).
Jesus, instead of correcting John’s message about poverty and wealth, speaks many warnings to the wealthy himself and consistently champions the poor.
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)
[Jesus] said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19)
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. (Luke 8:14)
The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:21-25)
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:19-25)
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice* and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. (Luke 11:39-42)
Thank you to Keely Scott, Compassion International photographer and friend, for these pics and hundreds more that remind me again and again of both the injustice of extreme poverty and the beauty of deliverance.
* The word translated “justice” in Luke 11:42 is the Greek word “krisis.” It is not deliverance (the kind of justice we’re discussing in this series) but judgment, the kind that takes place at the end of a trial as the sentence is handed down. Krisis results in blessing or punishment for the one being judged. The meaning here seems to be that by not caring for the poor, the Pharisees were not rightly judging or sentencing the poor, leaving them punished instead of blessed.