Desperate Dan above is a character from the Dundee produced DANDY a famous children’s comic now only available online. Dan is like Jesus in that he puts his strength to work for the weak.
This is just a brief post today to indicate that a) the Jesus tradition does have something to say about poor people and b) that it is not quite what people on either the right or the left of politics imagine.
Right wing people in the UK imagine that of course Jesus was a Tory because all proper people are Tories. They can see that Jesus was neither a Marxist nor a Liberal, nor a Labour man nor a Nationalist so by a process of elimination he must have been a Tory. So, good old Jesus!
Left wing people see that Jesus associated with poor people, and had harsh things to say about the rich, so they take him to have been some kind of proto- socialist.
it is clear that Jesus saw wealth as a demonic power that could enslave people, turning them away from their neighbour and their God. He was crystal clear that you can’t serve Money and the true God. It is also clear that he was in favour of relieving poverty by alms giving, provided this was done for justice and compassion rather than public approval.
Above all he recognised the gifts of the poor, the boy’s bread and fish, the widow’s coin.
There is absolutely no record of Jesus demanding political change either from the Romans or from his own rulers.
Except, he announced the arrival of God’s Rule in the midst of their rule, and was taken by the Romans to be another Messiah in rebellion against the Empire.
As this announcement was central to Jesus’ message and ministry, it’s reasonable to describe it as a political expectation and to see his disciples as agents of it. But he urged no violent change in society, insisting that even God asked for the cooperation of people with his Rule. Those who agreed to cooperate were part of his community of disciples both before and after his death. He saw them as the advance- guard of God’s Rule on earth. They would enjoy even on earth the shared life of the kingdom community where the lives of all were precious and nobody was poor because of the generosity of all.
When Jesus said, as we think, blessed are the poor, he was really saying, ” Good luck for the poor! God’s Rule is theirs!” meaning that God’s saving justice would favour them. In the Communities of Jesus Messiah, poor people found honour and the means of life. A famous bible scholar has the joke, “Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God but what we got is the church!” The first believers would have seen the churches as prototypes of the Rule of God which had yet to arrive in its fullness.
Out of this very brief survey we can take it that the churches’ first response to the Jesus’ tradition about poverty, is to make sure that their communities are open to poor people who will find that their dignity is respected and their needs are met. The church has be an outpost of God’s justice before it can preach it to society. A church will not know what it wants to say to its society about poverty until it has become a community of the kingdom. This an aspect of the grace and discipline of the Gospel.