Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jesus and the Poor 1

... continued from yesterday.
I started off this chapter mentioning Jesus' inaugural address in Luke 4 where he quotes the line in Isaiah 61:1 that he had come to "proclaim good news to the poor" (4:18). This is one of the special emphases of Luke, so I will return to it again in the second volume of this series. But it fits with the sense of this chapter that Jesus' earthly ministry targeted the "lost sheep," those who were not included in the "kingdom of Israel" at that time. Jesus seemed to target the marginal of Galilean society.

Who were the poor? The first thing we have to do to get into the mind of Jesus' world is not to think of ancient poverty in terms of money. The world of Galilee did not function primarily by the exchange of money and there certainly were no credit cards.  We should think more in terms of goods and resources.

The poor of Jesus' world were thus those who did not have adequate resources to live. [1] Mind you, most people lived on a subsistence level.  They farmed just enough to feed their family and to pay those forces of power who required their cut.  The poor did not have even enough to subsist. Whatever their inherited place in the world, they had lost it.

We do not actually find Jesus feeding the poor.  He feeds the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44) but not because they are poor.  He feeds them because they are hungry and far from food. We do not find Jesus beginning a soup kitchen or feeding program. But providing for those in need was clearly a core value.

In fact, Jesus lives like the poor himself, and he sends his followers out in a way that makes them fully dependent on others (e.g., Matt. 10:9-10). "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Luke 9:58). Luke knows who the poor are and he presents Jesus in a way that emphasizes this value.

Luke's version of the beatitude reads flatly, "Blessed are you who are poor" (Luke 6:20). There is no qualification for the poor in spirit, as in Matthew. Jesus proclaims the good news that those who are knocked off track now will be honored and restored in the coming kingdom of God.

Luke's best example of what a poor person looks like is the poor man Lazarus outside the rich man's house (Luke 16:19-31). This is a parable rather than an actual story. This is not the Lazarus of John's gospel, whom Jesus raises from the dead...

[1] Some great resources here are Bruce J. Malina's, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001) and The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels (London: Routledge, 1996).

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