In response to my entry on February 24, 2005 ("A Real Must Read"), a reader posted the comments I've copied below. I felt a need to place my response here so that everyone could read and weigh in. My reply to his ideas are in bold font and sandwiched in between his lines.
Thanks for the challenge, but...
Why did Jesus not end poverty when He was on the earth? I expect he didn't because he couldn't. We always assume that he could have, but such magical thinking doesn't take him seriously enough as a human, nor does it place responsibility for this worldwide need where it belongs: on us. The fact that he didn't well illustrates the reasons, the causes and the forces that account for poverty in the world. Poverty is the result of choices made by people. Jesus never set out to control the minds or the lives of people against their will. People are poor because the world is filled with people who have made bad, often evil choices. Sometimes bad choices are made by the poor. Most often those choices are made by the rich and powerful who are motivated by self-interest. Jesus seeks to win hearts. He did not come to overrule freewill decisions. Those times when Jesus touched people, fed people or intervened in a miraculous way are examples of his compassion and his charity. Poverty will never be overcome or adequately addressed through charity or compassion alone. Systemic change is called for and such change requires tough, sometimes hard-nosed but faithful, lifestyle decisions. Jesus spoke to this very clearly. Read Luke.
Why does God allow this form of suffering in the world? I don't know. Frankly, I have a "bone to pick" with God about that. My hunch is that God remains inactive in the face of much human suffering because God does not control the evil choices of people with power. That seems to be the message of the prophets and of Jesus.
Why does He not bless us all equally? This question assumes that all wealth is a blessing from God. Might it not be the result of unfair advantage that accrues due to the privilege of birth, class, race and even geographic location? Why pin everything on God?
Does Jesus mean 'actually feed' food to His sheep or does He mean to teach the gospel? If you are talking about his conversation with Peter at the end of John's gospel, it likely means to care for his followers and to do so in a holistic manner. The context does not indicate a literal feeding. I don't think anyone claims otherwise as this question implies. At the same time, Jesus did feed people and he was concerned that people eat when they were hungry. He tasked his followers with being attentive to this same concern. Again, more compassion. By the way, my experience among "the poor" reveals that almost everyone operates out of faith in God, so there is not much evangelizing to be done.
If He means to 'actually feed' the sheep, why did He/does He not physically feed the sheep? See the answer to the first part of this question above.
Why did He say, "the poor you will always have with you..." See my blog on January 18, 2005 ("Our Entertaining Use of the Bible"). Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 15:11 in his reply to his tight-fisted, greedy disciples who take issue with his anointing (Mark 14:3-9). Read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 in this important text about the Sabbatical year. You will notice what God's expectation is: ". . .there should be no poor among you. . .if only you obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today" (15:4-5). God expects us to create societies in which equity and justice prevail. As this and other texts make clear, God placed in the Law of Moses provisions for the creation of an economic system that would lead the society toward justice. Ironically, we find ourselves more "churched up" than ever and at the same time the poor suffer terribly while the rich grow even richer. Don't be fooled, this is by design. The church today seems to have almost no word on justice to speak into our democratic society, a society that we could control or at least influence. I fear that people of faith have been almost completely co-opted by our culture and its materialistic values.
If filling the bellies of the hungry is the area where we, the church, can be most like Christ, why then would you encourage us to spend one more dime on a book and not put those monies into bags of food? Why not sell this $2500.00 computer and buy food? Why not sell all but three shirts and two pair of pants and buy food? Why not one shirt and one pair of pants? Why not turn off the AC at your office? your house? Why not sell your house? First, no one is saying that "filling bellies" is the mission. Establishing justice and fairness in the earth is our concern. The issues of bellies will follow justice. Charity is not the answer. In fact, charity is often a very sophisticated way for the powerful to retain their power while receiving accolades about their generosity. Charity can be a comfortable substitute for the realization of justice, something akin to Bonhoeffer's notion of "cheap grace." Second, having said that, I must admit you ask good questions of us here at the beginning of the 21st century. Most of us, myself being the first in line to receive your message, need to consider selling out, living more modestly for the sake of our on-going struggle to see justice and equal opportunity prevail. Jesus spoke to these issues and he spoke clearly (Luke 12:13-34--note the last three verses).
Jesus says "give up everything" and follow me. Does following Him mean being homeless, as Jesus was homeless? Why not? It might. For some of us, it should. Some people have actually done this. We typically consider folks like this radical at best and, if we are really honest with ourselves, downright nutty! We find it fairly easy to dismiss people who take Jesus at his word here about "laying up treasure in heaven" because most all of them come from faith traditions that we don't understand and have found easy to judge and reject. But, your questions are fair and some of us need to consider such radical steps--if not toward literal homelessness, then to a much more dependent lifestyle. But, there are many steps between our typical middle, upper-class, respectable "Christian" manner of living comfortably with our culture and its oppressive structures and the radical lifestyle your question envisions. I don't think we have any idea just how serious Jesus was with his words, nor how amazing the Kingdom he had in mind truly is. It is why he was executed.
Jesus taught us to pray "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Strong words. Words that tell me our work is to be about the earth until we find ourselves elsewhere.
Thanks for reading and posting here. Stay with me!
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