The Poor as God's Favorites

The Gospel story of Lazarus, the poor man, was as difficult to accept in Jesus’ time as it is in ours.

Jesus lived in a society dominated by religion, where the easy explanation for poverty, illness, or disability was sin, either of the individual or his/her parents.

Jesus countered this attitude by going around forgiving sins and curing people, even on the Sabbath when doing any work was forbidden.

He explicitly upended the idea that poverty was due to sin when He declared that “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God” and when He told how Lazarus easily made it into heaven, into the “bosom of Abraham.”

Our culture today does not blame poverty on sin, but it implies a kind of moral failing when the foremost values in our society are success in a career, wealth, property, and the lifestyle that goes along with all that.

Now, of course, most Americans do not see themselves as ranking with the rich and famous but as struggling middle class and consider work as virtuous.

Indeed, Jesus also encouraged everyone to use his/her personal gifts or talents and even warned that much is expected from those who are given greater talents and abilities.

The temptation in this is to value what we accomplish, not who we are as persons.

And just like the people is Jesus’s time, we look down on the poor or the drug addicted, and while we do not declare them as “sinful,” we blame their poverty and their problems on some personal flaw or moral deficiency.

In fact, we prefer not to even think about the poor.

But Scripture tells us that God loves the poor. He is on their side simply because they are still persons worthy of respect. And in their helplessness, they put their trust in God.

Most pointedly, in Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that when we clothe, feed, and house the poor, rescue those taken captive by drugs or human traffickers, or console the afflicted we do it all to Him – to His person.

Our need to stay in the middle class at times seems to require all our efforts, even when the result is only a very tentative security.

But in the story of Lazarus Jesus reminds us of what really counts: reaching out to Him for our inmost needs like the helpless poor or helping Him by helping the poor and change their lives.