A fellow Christian blogger, Miguel Labrador, has been writing a series of blog posts on poverty, and yesterday I read the third of these posts which was on the topic “Which comes first, their need or our creed?”
As I prayed on this post I was struck by the verses in the Gospel according to Mark where the story is related of the woman who poured very costly oil on the head of Jesus. Some of those around Jesus, chief amongst them Judas Iscariot, objected vehemently, saying that the oil should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor.
Here are the verses:
And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.
But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” – Mark 14:3-9
From this we can see that the desire to put the poor first is, in fact, a matter of the flesh. To attempt to place the poor first and then base our interpretation of Scripture and our application of it on the poor is to “put the tail before the donkey”. It produces a distorted view of Jesus in which we place the poor of equal value to our Lord.
Instead we need to be placing Jesus as supreme – for He is the worthy Lamb of God, not us – and that applies equally whether we are rich or poor.
If we place the poor as the defining aspect of our belief then we will not see the true Jesus, but rather a distorted view. Of course, we are to do good to the poor. Yet we must let our love for the poor be born out of our love for Jesus and we must see the poor in the Light of Jesus. It should never be the other way around.
The danger of an inverted view may well be seen in the Occupy Faith movement (Occupy Faith is a loose grouping of people of faith – not just Christians – who seek to be part of the Occupy protest movement). Economic justice is a good and wholesome aim. Yet, as Christians in Occupy Faith seek to fight for economic justice, Jesus has been sidelined. That is gravely wrong. Jesus must be the Centre. To do good separate from Jesus is not possible – we must abide in Him in order to bear good fruit, for He is the True Vine.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. – John 15:1-8
Unless we seek “First the Kingdom of God” then we will not do good. If we seek to do good, but abide not in Christ, our works are fruitless in any real and eternal sense.
Indeed, the subject of justice for the poor can become an idolatrous situation that is simply an inverted prosperity “gospel”. The prosperity movement with its insistence that God wants us to be rich is an abominable doctrine, yet if we believe that God wants us to care for the poor over and above our regard for Him then we are equally so following a falsity.