“Poverty and the Christian Communion,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
Poverty and the poor for some hundreds if not thousands of years has been a significant concern of Christian thought and concerns. Jesus himself, coming from heaven, an eternal being taking on the limitation of our humanity and taking on human form and mortality, embraced poverty from the very beginning. His life was a life of denial, service, and poverty.
If we review his sayings and his life, we see clearly his concern for the poor and identification with the poor and poverty. Jesus began his ministry with the statement in Luke 4:17-19, taken from Isaiah 61:1-12, about preaching good news to the poor; proclaiming release of the captives; recovering of sight to the blind; and setting at liberty those who are oppressed.
In the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, he states the poor in spirit will have the kingdom of heaven and states in Luke 6 they clearly will have the kingdom of heaven. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus clearly defines the consequences of the indifference of the rich man to the sufferings of the poor man in his presence and sight as he feasted, and tells us that the fate of the wealthy man in doing this will be eternal condemnation. In Luke 1:52-53, Jesus says he has exalted those of low degree and sent the rich away empty. In Matthew 25, Jesus defines our obligations to neighbors, which include food for the hungry; clothing for the naked; and visits to the sick and imprisoned; and he says we will be judged on those criteria and bases or, better put, we will be judged in the final judgment on how we treat people in this life. In 2 Cor 8:9, Paul states that Jesus became poor for our sake so that we might become rich. In Acts 4:32 to 5:11, and Acts 11 27-30, there is a sharing of possessions in the Christian community. The epistle of James includes visiting the orphans and widows in their affliction (James 1:27). In James 2:1-13, there is a discussion of showing partiality to the rich over the poor in the assembly. In Luke 6 and James 5, greed is criticized.
This brief discussion of poverty and the poor in the Christian world view reveals that there is a significant responsibility for the faithful Christian to eliminate wealth and that the poor will be rewarded in the next life for their sufferings in the life to come, as can be seen in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 and in the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. It is clear in the gospel message and system of thought that material inequalities, if possible, should be eliminated and, if possible, the church and Christians should endeavor to do so.
There are, I think, other forms of poverty which are equally deadening and harmful. Let us take a look at artistic poverty. To know and hear Bach, Mozart, Handel, Wagner, and Verdi is to be deprived and to be in a kind of darkness and poverty. It is the responsibility of our educational system to set about to cure this poverty and so raise the young from this poverty. Then there is literary poverty. To not know Milton’s Paradise Lost and not hear and grasp the message and words of the Bible is also to be in a kind of poverty. Again, these poverties lie in the working and responsibility of our educational system. Also, to not know the great English poets such as Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Tennyson is to suffer and be in literary poverty. To not know the great philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and St. Augustine again is to be a kind of poverty. To not know the truths and lessons of history is to be in poverty.
A life without all these is a life of poverty which our system should set about to correct and cure. The alleviation of material poverty and inequalities is the first and foremost responsibility of the church and the individual Christian and believer. All other forms of poverty I have spoken of here flow from and follow from this event.