Poverty - Why bother?

Rev Erik Cramb asks why Christians should care about poverty.

"The poor ye have with you always," the cynic will tell you, "at least your Jesus got that much right! So, why bother? Two thousand years on why does the church bother, why should it bother?"

What about poverty anyway? Who are the poor? They are people who are crushed under the burden of simply maintaining life from day to day when every act of survival seems only to serve to tighten the merciless bonds of poverty and debt and hopelessness. They are people who are despised and outcast from society because they are strangers, disabled, refugees, slaves, homosexuals, gypsies, Jews, women. Society���s capacity for selecting categories to humiliate and demonise seems never ending. People are made poor because of injustice and prejudice. People are poor because other people are rich.

"If God is not involved in human history, then all theology is useless and Christianity itself is a mockery, a hollow meaningless diversion" is the passionate assertion of the American theologian James Cone. And Biblical evidence is pretty unambiguous that that involvement is on the side of the poor and the oppressed.

The choosing of Israel in the Old Testament as the people of God is inseparable from their slave status in Egypt and God���s covenant with them is founded in their liberation from oppression. "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles��� wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my possession among all peoples". Exodus 19:4-5a.

When the Lord spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai about the rhythm of life (Leviticus 25), about the seventh year being a year of rest for the land, He recognises the immutable nature of human life is that, without social mechanisms of restraint, the rich become out-of-sight rich and the poor are trapped in unremitting poverty. He gives Moses the instruction that there should be a Jubilee year; a year of restoration, a mechanism to re-establish social cohesion.

It is in the life of Jesus that the involvement of God in human history sheds all ambiguity. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Luke 4:18-19.

Jesus��� pronouncements seek to transform social reality. They seek the radical subversion of society ��� it is the wealthy, the Pharisees, doctors of the Law, priests and civil rulers who are denounced. In the proclamation of Jesus the love of God is made concrete in terms of strength for the weak, the embracing of the outcast and the defeat of poverty. He was a menace to orderly society and had to die. St Paul continues the insane challenge by arguing that the cross is the wisdom of God.

In our world of increasing globalisation the sinful power of economic structures magnify and multiply the power of sin. The destruction or impoverishment of human life is a theological problem, the problem of sin in action and the problem of life denied in human existence.

Aneurin Bevan challenged an earlier generation of clerics. "As for you, I tell you what the epitaph on you Scottish dissenters will be ��� pure but impotent. Yes, you will be pure all right. But remember at the price of impotency. You will not influence the course of British politics by as much as a hair���s breadth. Why don���t you get into a nunnery and be done with it."

Poverty? Why bother? Simply because as followers of Christ we can do no other.

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