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Friday, May 16, 2014

Defending the needy or not

At my job's weekly Bible study we've been going through  a year long Bible survey, and this week we discussed Jeremiah. We only read the first five chapters of Jeremiah and the middle chapter of Lamentations, but God is hot from the beginning, 1:14-15 That is because an evil out of the north will indeed begin spilling onto the people of this land. Watch now, as I summon the clans and kingdoms of the north to march against Judah, rule with power at the very gates of Jerusalem, press in on every side, and vanquish all the cities of Judah. It's all gas and no brake. God is upset over two issues, idols and treatment of the needy.


  1.  Idolatry 1:16 I will declare My sentence for their wicked crimes. My own people have abandoned Me, burning incense to other gods and bowing down to handmade idols
  2. Treatment of the poor 5:26-29 Lurking among My own people are the wicked who watch and wait, preying on the less fortunate. Like hunters who set traps for birds, they ensnare people for their own benefit. Like a cage full of noisy birds, their homes are filled with screeching lies. This is how they have become so rich and important—because others fell for their lies. This is how they have grown so fat and polished. Their evil deeds know no boundaries. They do not take the side of the orphaned to help them prosper. They do not seek justice for the poor; Should I not punish them for these atrocities? Against a nation like this, should I not avenge Myself?


Previous to chapter 5 God reviews how the nation was enslaved, poor and oppressed, and he was the only God who took interest in them and delivered them. But by Jeremiah's time, the nation forgot her low status and her God. His response is to turn them over to what they want. If they want to turn from him, he would turn from them. When he turned from them, his protection over this little nation, was also removed, leaving them easy prey for the bigger nations around them, nations he had formerly protected them from. Yet God kept pleading for them to turn back to him. Turning back meant leaving the idolatry and taking care of the needy in their midst.

After the Babylonian exile, idolatry ceased being an issue for the Jewish people. Nehemiah and Ezra don't mention it. But when John the Baptist comes on the scene right before Jesus, his calls for repentance are about money.
Luke 3:9-14 John the Baptist: God wants you to bear fruit! If you don’t produce good fruit, then you’ll be chopped down like a fruitless tree and made into firewood. God’s ax is taking aim and ready to swing!
 People:  What shall we do to perform works from changed lives?
 John the Baptist:  The person who has two shirts must share with the person who has none. And the person with food must share with the one in need.
Some tax collectors were among those in the crowd seeking baptism.
Tax Collectors: Teacher, what kind of fruit is God looking for from us?
John the Baptist: Stop overcharging people. Only collect what you must turn over to the Romans.
Soldiers: What about us? What should we do to show true change?
John the Baptist: Don’t extort money from people by throwing around your power or making false accusations, and be content with your pay.
I'm reading Luke personally, and he has a focus on Jesus's teaching about the poor. The beatitudes he records in chapter 6 have a more earthly, even economic, focus.
20 Jesus: All you who are poor, you are blessed for the kingdom of God belongs to you.
21 All you who are hungry now, you are blessed for your hunger will be satisfied. All you who weep now, you are blessed for you shall laugh!
22 When people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and write you off as evil on account of the Son of Man, you are blessed.
23 When these things happen, rejoice! Jump for joy! Then you have a great reward in heaven For at that moment, you are experiencing what the ancient prophets did when they were similarly treated by the ancestors of your detractors.
24 All you who are rich now, you are in danger for you have received your comfort in full.
25 All you who are full now, you are in danger for you shall be hungry. All you who laugh now, you are in danger for you shall grieve and cry.
26 And when everyone speaks well of you, you are in danger for their ancestors spoke well of the false prophets too.
A couple chapters later Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story of how to be a good neighbor. In Luke 10. The climax of the story talks about money a bit.
35 The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn't enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” 36 Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers? Scholar: 37 The one who showed mercy to him. Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan.
I think Jesus agrees with Jeremiah, taking care of the poor and needy is a priority of God's. It's his priority because God is merciful to us. Yet the richer we become, in general, the less generous we become as well. We want to hold on to what we have with ever increasing grip, enjoying the security of our wealth, ignoring, blaming, and despising those in need around us. Forgetting our histories with God as Israel did. Jesus wants us to be open handed.
Luke 12:31 Since you don’t need to worry—about security and safety, about food and clothing—then pursue God’s kingdom first and foremost, and these other things will come to you as well. 32 My little flock, don’t be afraid. God is your Father, and your Father’s great joy is to give you His kingdom. 33 That means you can sell your possessions and give generously to the poor. You can have a different kind of savings plan: one that never depreciates, one that never defaults, one that can’t be plundered by crooks or destroyed by natural calamities. 34 Your treasure will be stored in the heavens, and since your treasure is there, your heart will be lodged there as well.
An open hand receives and gives with ease. An open hand holds everything, a closed hand only holds what can fit in that little space. The closed hand gets a swat to open it back up.

Help me Lord to be generous to the poor and protective of the needy around me. My neighbors. You, Jesus, in disguise. (Matthew 25:40)

update: I just read Randy Alcorn's blog on John Wesley's example of life long giving and it's great.

1 comment:

Vrv Karunya said...

Hi I just today disputed within my mind regarding our importance prefer for safe wealth security & blaming those in need...Till now i was just safe my wealth..Then I was thinking of Jesus words for justifying myself.Your writing words cool me & concluded with helping poor