Matthew 26:11 “For you always have the poor with you” ESV
Thirty years ago to the day a call to action was raised to recognise the plight of the world’s poor and the dispossessed. This call was raised by Fr Joseph Wresinski and the text is immortalised on a stone at the Trocadero Human Rights Plaza in Paris.
“On this day, defenders of human and civil rights from every continent gathered here. They paid homage to the victims of hunger, ignorance and violence. They affirmed their conviction that human misery is not inevitable. They pledged their solidarity with all people who, throughout the world, strive to eradicate extreme poverty.
Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty”.
Poverty has always been a major problem. Throughout history the world has been a case of the haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor, and never has the gulf been as wide as it is today. In an age where food and shelter is plentiful the fact that poverty is on the increase should be raising alarm bells world-wide, there is something seriously wrong here.
The international day for the Eradication of Poverty is intended to promote dialogue and understanding in communities and encourage a cooperative stance in helping people lift themselves out of poverty with dignity and free from shame. It is designed to help find ways to close the gap between the wealthy and the poor, and there are plenty of organisations across the globe trying to do it.
One of the problems we face in our ‘civilised’ world is that we view poverty as something that happens in other countries like Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, there can’t possibly be starving children and desperate people in the UK, USA!! Can there??
Sadly the answer is yes, the poor are right under our noses and won’t go away with wishful thinking no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable it may be. We must never forget the poor, as Jesus himself reminds us, they are always with us (see quote above from Matthew 26).
God’s heart is with the poor as told in Psalm 113 “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people”. Psalm 113 ESV. This Psalm makes it abundantly clear of God’s position on the plight of the poor so why do so many of us not see it ourselves?
I remember my first introduction to extreme poverty with the global event that was Live Aid, as a radical teenager I was determined to help in any way I could and to my joy I found others doing the same thing and off we went to try and raise awareness and money in our own small ways. We should all be doing this, we should all be radical with our efforts to help the poor. It starts with the recognition that the poor are on our own doorsteps, children are starving in our inner cities, families are homeless and desperate while the governments who are in office to serve them choose to give tax breaks to the wealthy. The churches seem to be largely inactive and self-serving as money is spent on fancy sound and media equipment rather than helping those in need. One local church I know of decided the best way to clear their consciences was to exclude the poor altogether; ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’ (the Vicar’s words) they called it. Some good initiatives have been begun in the Body of Christ, such as CAP (Christians Against Poverty) and the many Christian aid agencies, like CAFOD and Christian Aid, and the wonderful work of the Salvation Army. We need to keep these organisations thriving and well-staffed.
Whilst it can be helpful, the world’s poverty stricken are not always on the lookout for a handout, help can come in many forms. Coming along-side, debt counselling, money management training, job clubs and in places like Africa the farming cooperative schemes, seed sharing etc. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime, as the saying goes.
As God’s passion is for the poor, so must ours be, for as the word says:
Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor”.
Luke 6:20 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”
As Jesus told the rich young man in Luke 18:22 “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” He does not say come and follow me and then help the poor, he challenges the man to put the poor before himself, sadly it is something he can’t and won’t do. Many of us are like this in the world and in the church. For God has blessed us with the main tool to be used to saving the poor… us! God doesn’t need to come down from heaven and save everyone in one fell swoop for he has sent us to do it for him and it is our honour, blessing and duty to fulfil his word and command.
The call for action on this day is the starting point, a springboard for each of us to bless others and ourselves with our love and aid to the less fortunate and the dispossessed. Our time and efforts are as valuable as our coin and we must sweep away the trappings that entomb us in the whited sepulchres some churches are becoming. Pray for guidance, look to your heart to see where your skills can be used and if you are fortunate to be wealthy then give abundantly as God gave abundantly to you.
There are no excuses in these times, no child should go hungry, no pensioner should be cold, no mother should miscarry in a dark alley, no man should seek respite in a bottle.
Remember the poor, keep them in your prayers.