The Poor and Needy
In a recent message the challenge presented was that we who are Christians are to take care of the poor and needy. The emphasis was on those who are poor and needy financially.
There are many people who are poor and needy financially. When God teaches us in the Bible to take care of the poor and needy, most certainly He intends the financially poor.
However, there are other kinds of being poor and needy. God’s intent is that we are help all who suffer, including those who are physically or emotionally or socially or spiritually poor and needy.
It is that we are going to concentrate on in this message, using mainly a teaching of Jesus found in Luke 14, but also including some Biblical examples and a modern example of helping such people.
The teaching of Jesus is found in verses 12 through 14 of Luke 14, but to set the stage, let me share something I learned about a community that existed around the time of Jesus. A community of Jews called Qumran.
The community lived in what was mostly a system of caves. Such a system kept them separated from the world.
Those in the Qumran community were very dedicated followers of God. That was seen in their devotional life, which included their copying of spiritual writings. Their dedication to God also included adherence to do all the ceremonial washings called for in Old Testament law and their strict following of God’s laws of conduct.
There was nothing the residents of Qumran read in Old Testament Scriptures that they were not devoted to knowing and following. With the exception of one thing, which is reflected in what has been found in some of their documents from that time long ago. Documents that strictly forbade the admission of anyone who was lame or blind or crippled in some other way.
The intent of those in Qumran was good. At least it sounded good to them. Their intent was keep out of the God-centered community any blemish, which they considered those with physical ailments to be. Those with physical problems were considered ceremonially unclean.
Those in the Qumran community did not want to be tainted with impurity, so they kept out any and all who were not physically perfect. That extended to them not even allowing the physically imperfect to join them for meals. Disabled people were never on their guest lists.
The members of the Qumran community did what they did because they believed that only those who are pure are worthy of worshiping God. However, that separation is not what Jesus taught
Listen to what Jesus said. Again, this is in Luke 14, beginning with verse 12. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid, but when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you.”
The poor. That refers to those who are financially needy. Being poor could be related to not having the skills needed to make a proper living or maybe not having opportunities to prove worth in the work world. For those in Jesus’ day who were poor, working for the wage common at that time for normal working men meant it was rare thing to have money left over to save or invest for better days ahead. They never seemed to be able to get ahead.
The poor rarely were invited to eat with others, perhaps, as Jesus implied, because they could never repay the invitation. How shocked such people would be to receive an invitation, but that is what Jesus encourages in this passage.
By the way, I do not read in this passage that it is wrong to invite friends or relatives to a dinner or feast, including those who are rich. This is not a call to ignore those near and dear. However, it is a teaching to not shun those who are troubled. Those who might be below you on the social scale.
The maimed. That refers to those who have been injured so severely there is permanent damage to some part of the body. The causes might be war or job-related mishaps with a machine of some kind or maybe a run in with an animal. The point here is that the maiming might be evident, which could make the person difficult to look at. Another point is that if the maiming is severe enough to keep a person from working, he or she would also be poor and therefore even more in need of food at a feast.
The lame. That alludes to someone who cannot easily walk because of a problem with one or both of his or her feet. That could come from a birth defect or from a disease or from an accident.
Of course, being lame often resulted in not being able to work, which usually meant the lame person was also financially needy. Plus, being lame might make it difficult to get to where a feast was. Hence the idea that inviting a lame person to a good meal was rarely considered.
The blind. We of course know what blindness is, which usually, at the time of Jesus, resulted in poverty. Like the maimed and the lame, the blind had to rely on their families, who might also be poor, or on begging.
It is easy to associate with people who are at least comfortable financially and those who are healthy, including our friends and our families. And again, there is nothing wrong with such associations.
However, it must not end there. We are, according to Jesus, to also associate with those who are poor and needy, not only financially, but also physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
It is interesting that those in the Qumran community did not pick up on what Jesus was doing. What He had done in His ministry. They were a community at the time of and after Jesus’ ministry, but they did not seem to notice what He did.
For instance, let’s consider a few examples of how Jesus put into practice what He taught, not in banquet settings, but in associations that helped those who were poor and needy physically.
How about Jesus dealing with the blind?
One time Jesus did that is recorded in John 9. One day He noticed a blind man. It is not recorded what the blind man was doing. Maybe he was by the road begging, waiting for someone to help him financially. Again, it is not recorded. But that day, Jesus noticed the blind man.
Whereupon He walked up to the man, spat on the ground near the man, made clay from the moist dirt, and used it to anoint the man’s eyes. Jesus then instructed the man to go to a certain pool in Jerusalem and wash himself.
The man obeyed. He did go to that pool and wash Himself. Guess what. After the washing, the man could see. What a miracle that was since the man had been blind from birth.
Interestingly, that healing got Jesus into trouble since it happened on a Sabbath Day. Healings, except in life and death situations, were not allowed on Sabbath Days. The healing also put the formerly-blind man and his parents in danger.
But think of it. It would have been easy for Jesus to pass by the man when he was blind. There is no record the man cried out for help, so it would have been easy to walk right by him. But Jesus associated with the blind man. He associated in a way that the blind man was helped.
Remember the passage in Luke. Invite those who will not be able to repay you. That is what Jesus did in associating with the blind man. There was nothing the blind man could ever do in return, except of course to accept Jesus as Savior. But being paid back was not Jesus’ concern. His intent was to help. That is what we are to do as well.
How about Jesus dealing with the lame?
One time Jesus did that is recorded in John 5. One day He noticed a man who was lame. As recorded, the lameness that had gone on for 38 years.
The man was sitting by another pool in Jerusalem. According to the report, he was among many others there who were also in physical trouble.
When Jesus noticed that man, He edged closer and asked, “Do you want to be healed?”
What an interesting question. Of course, the man could have answered, “No.” Jesus would not and does not force His healing power on anyone. But what an important question. For 38 years the man had had to beg for his survival. Though demeaning, that is what he was accustomed to. If he was healed, he would have to go out and find work. That would be an extremely major change.
The question was Jesus’ request that the man think it through. “Do you want to be healed? Are you ready and willing to have your life completely changed?”
The man’s answer seems to indicate he did want to be healed. In fact, that is why he was by that pool. Why he had been there for a very long time. You see, there was a belief that when the water in the pool got troubled, the first one in would be healed. But remember there were many disabled people around the pool. Because the man was lame, he could not move fast enough to be the first one in. Nor was there anyone with him to help him be the first into the pool.
The man was poor and needy physically. I read into his answer to Jesus - his dismay that no one was around to help him into the pool - that the man was also poor and needy emotionally. He seemed to have no hope of ever being healed. Because begging was his livelihood, he was poor and needy financially as well.
What did Jesus do? He associated with the man. He had already done that by going to the man and striking up a conversation. He further associated with the man by saying to him, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.”
Immediately, the man was healed. That was evident when he at once he obeyed what Jesus said to him. The man at once stood, grabbed his bed, and started to walk.
Maybe he took a few steps gingerly. I mean, it had been just short of four decades since he had last walked. But that just adds to the miracle. The man’s feet and his legs were strong enough, even after 38 years of not being used, to support him. The man at once stood, grabbed his bed, and walked.
That healing also got Jesus into trouble since it, too, happened on a Sabbath Day. It put that man in danger as well.
But think of it. It would have been easy for Jesus to pass by the man when he was lame. As it was with the blind man, there is no record the lame man cried out for help, so it would have been easy to walk right by him. But Jesus associated with the lame man. He associated in a way that the lame man was helped, which is what we are to do as well.
How about Jesus dealing with the maimed?
For that, a few verses in Matthew 15.
In Matthew 15, Jesus was not in Jerusalem, which is where He was when He healed the blind man and the lame man we just thought about. Jerusalem was a southern city. In Matthew 15, Jesus was up north, near the Sea of Galilee.
One day Jesus went up on a mountain in that area. Maybe He did that to get away for a time to rest and to pray. However, when the people in the area saw Him, great crowds of them went to where He was. They took with them those who were blind, lame, unable to talk , and those who were maimed.
How easy it could have been for Jesus to rebuke all those people. He must, in His physical body, have been tired. He likely wanted at least a few minutes to Himself.
Instead, He chose to associate with all who had come to Him. In that association, Jesus healed everyone who was poor and needy physically. The result? “When the people saw those unable to talk speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, the blind seeing, they marveled, and they glorified God.”
We are challenged in the Bible to take care of the poor and needy. The poor and needy, not only financially, but in every other way as well - physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually. That is what we are supposed to do. That is a teaching of Jesus.
As cited, we have Jesus as an example of taking care of the poor and needy. We have some other examples as well, including the modern example of Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa was born in 1910 in Macedonia. According to her biography, at the age of 12, she felt a strong call of God. It was a call to be a missionary to spread the love of Jesus.
Six years later, at the age of 18, Mother Teresa - she was not known by that title and name at that time - left her parents’ home and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months of training in Dublin, Ireland, she was sent to India where, in 1931, she took her vows as a nun.
From 1931 to 1948, Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary's High School in Calcutta, India. However, the suffering and poverty she saw outside the convent walls made such a deep impression on her that in 1948 she received permission to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta.
Mother Teresa had no funds, so she relied on God to provide what she needed to start an open-air school for slum children. She was soon joined by volunteer helpers. Then financial support started coming in. The helpers and the financing made it possible for Mother Teresa to extend the scope of her work.
In 1950, Mother Teresa received permission to start The Missionaries of Charity. The main goal was to love and care for people nobody was prepared to look after.
Mother Teresa is no longer with us. She passed away nine years ago, and I know that while she was alive, she was not universally liked or admired. One reason, as I understand it, is that she was very pushy in asking for financial help. Another reason is she was very demanding of those who volunteered to work with her.
But she was dedicated. She herself took care of the poor and needy, including those financially poor and the needy who were maimed, lame, or blind.
Mother Teresa’s life would have been a lot less hectic had she not done what she did, but she took seriously the teaching to associate with the poor and needy. As Jesus worded it, she served those who had no means whatsoever to repay except maybe with a thank you.
I have read that the charity work Mother Teresa began in India has spread to much of the rest of the world, including Russia, Eastern European countries, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where help is given to those suffering from natural catastrophes and shut ins, alcoholics, the homeless, and AIDS sufferers.
The question? What about you? What about me? What about us? How do we - how will we - answer the challenge to associate with the poor and needy, to do so whether we are paid back or not? To remember that associating should include an investment of time?
That is what Jesus did. It was not only His healing that was important - actually, healing was critical - but in each case mentioned, Jesus spent time with those who needed help. That is what Mother Teresa did as well. She did not just go around and convince others to give to her cause. She herself spent time with those in great need.
What about you and me? What can we do to answer the call to associate with any who are poor and needy in any way?
Let’s have a moment of silent prayer, centering on ways we can associate with those who are poor and needy in any way. Maybe the Lord will suggest to you or to me someone you or I can visit. Someone who is lonely or ill. Maybe you can think of someone who would like a phone call or a letter. Maybe there is a meal you can prepare or purchase and take to someone.
Those are just a few ideas I can come up with. Let’s spend a moment in prayer. Let’s listen for how God wants you and me and us to associate with the poor and needy with financial, physical, emotional, social, or spiritual issues. Let’s also ask for the Lord’s strength to carry through with what He tells us as we listen.
A moment of silent prayer before today’s closing song.
Today’s closing song is a good summary of what we have been talking about. We will sing the first four verses of the hymn Let Your Heart Be Broken. The fifth verse will be the base of the benediction.
Let your heart be broken
For a world in need
Feed the mouths that hunger,
Soothe the wounds that bleed,
Give the cup of water
And the loaf of bread -
Be the hands of Jesus,
Serving in His stead.
Here on earth applying
Principles of love -
God still rules above.
Of the Living Word
To the minds of all who’ve
Never seen and heard.
Blest to be a blessing,
Privileged to care,
Challenged by the need
Where the world is wanting
Fill the vacant place,
Be the means through which
The Lord reveals His grace.
Add to your believing
Deeds that prove it true -
Knowing Christ as Savior,
Make Him master, too:
Follow in His footsteps,
Go where He has trod,
In the world’s great trouble
Risk yourself for God.
Lord, may our hearts be tender. May our vision be clear. God, help us to see others as You see them, serving You as we serve those who are poor and needy. May our hearts be broken by the pain of others. Help us to share our resources, giving and giving again. Amen.