We’ve got up to chapter 19. The only other references to the poor between chapter 19 and the end are these two. The first is from the calling of Zacchaeus the tax collector:
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. (Luke 19:8 )
And the second is the example of giving from the poor widow:
As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on. (Luke 21:1-4)
Zacchaeus was not poor, but in a way he was an outcast. A Jew working for the Roman government to collect taxes would now have gone down well. And it seems that he cheated in what he took. When confronted with Jesus, he immediately came down and followed, honoured that Jesus would want to be with a ‘sinner’ like him. His immediate reaction is to recognise his sin at cheating people and pay them back four times, and gice half of what he has left to the poor.
The widow was giving money to the temple treasury which would go to pay the priests and for upkeep of the temple. She put in financially not a lot, but it was a great amount of what she had, Jesus commends her for it.
These, and the example of the rich young ruler from 18:18-30 may not tell us much about the poor per se but serve and example to all of us in giving. Often we have the idea that a Christian is to tithe 10% of their income to the church and charity. Here we see the rich young ruler being asked to give away all of his possessions (100%), Zacchaeus volunteered to give away half, plus more to those he cheated, and the widow gave away ‘all she had to live on’. These all add up to far more than 10%.
Rather than coming to any hard and fast rule that Christians should stick to, as that would be legalism, I think the principle is that we give out of generosity, like Zacchaeus and the widow, not out of duty. Giving should perhaps be the first thing on our agenda. Too often its gets relegated to what we have left over.
Summing up what Luke said about the poor:
- Jesus came for them as well as all people, but he message is good news for the poor in particular who were being overlooked by society. Is that still the case?
- They are often more willing to receive from Jesus, trust him, and follow as they recognise that they can’t do everything on their own. Others feel they have too much to lose, so they lose out on the mose precious thing. The lesson here is humility.
- There is nothing inherently wrong with riches and wealth, but they cannot save and often distract from God
- There is an expectation that those who have money and wealth will care and provide for those who don’t. Generosity and care seems to be a value of the Kingdom of God.
- Justice and mercy are also marks of the kingdom seen in Luke. In the parables that Jesus told, the poor were able to gain justice and a fair hearing that they are often denied in the world. If Christians are living out ‘kingdom values’ and giving a foretaste of the kingdom to come (already, but not yet), then a social conscience is a necessary part of that. Without it, Christians cannot be said to be living the values of the kingdom to which they claim they belong.