‘The Poor are always with you’ said Jesus when his disciples complained about him just having had expensive perfume poured on his head. His disciples see the expense and say ‘This … could have been sold and the money given to the poor’. Always having the poor around shouldn’t make us complacent.
Jesus tells a story about a poor man ‘Lazarus’ (the name means one whom God helps), he lived begging on the door-step of a rich man. Each day the rich man steps over him, see Lazarus covered with sores, but despite Lazarus hoping ‘to eat food that fell from the rich man’s table’ gives him nothing. The poor man dies and goes to heaven. The rich man dies and goes to hell, and whilst there, he looks up and sees Abraham in heaven. He calls out, ‘Father Abraham! Take pity on me, and send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water and cool my tongue, because I am in great pain in this fire’. Even in the after-life, the rich man wants to use the power of wealth to get his own way, thinks he can tell poor Lazarus what to do! Hasn’t he learnt? Basically, no!
Abraham, tells him: ‘Remember, my son, that in your lifetime you were given all the good things, while Lazarus got all the bad things. But now he is enjoying himself here, while you are in pain’. Within the story is the idea that Lazarus, even though VERY poor, is a man with a faith which comes out of his poverty. He is so poor, all he has to hold onto is God, nothing else! The teaching of Jesus rightfully makes us feel uneasy, for many of us have so much that the last thing we will hold onto is God.
Now, over the last 30 years we have seen a reduction in world extreme poverty and this is an amazing thing. However, any poverty is to some extent relative and, of course, if you are poor it is no good you being told that there is an overall reduction in world poverty, you are still poor. When Jesus speaks of the poor he is especially thinking of those who are so poor, they need to ask for help, a very humbling thing.
The Church in the first centuries was known in the Roman world for caring for the poor. The Emperor Julian grudgingly acknowledges that ‘the impious Galileans [Christians] support not merely their own poor, but ours as well’. The Christian philosopher Justin, writes in the beginning of the 2nd Century about his local Christian church: ‘On the day which is called the day of the sun (they meet) to pray and read and to celebrate the Eucharist, at the conclusion of which the deacons take the Eucharistic elements to those unable to be present, presumably through reasons of sickness or imprisonment, whilst the rest of the congregation … give what they will, each after his choice. What is collected is deposited with the president, who gives aid to the orphans and widows and such as are in want by reason of sickness or other cause, and to those also that are in prison, and to strangers from abroad; in fact, to all that are in need, he is a protector.’
Homelessness and poverty is growing in the UK. We have had a rise in Food Banks because people need them. All the Methodist churches in the Meon Valley support or run a Food Bank. The reason; in the affluent Meon Valley, there are people in real need. Hunger and homelessness is amongst us. What can you do? Give money or food to your local churches for Food Banks for those in need, support homeless charities and lobby our politicians. I am happy to take any donations and pass them onto those in need locally.