I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
DOGS, SORES, A CAMEL AND THE EYE OF A NEEDLE
(A brief commentary on Jesus' statements on
the poor and the rich)
By Edgar JonesAnd he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.Poverty is a blessed estate! Wealth is a woeful condition! My dear friends! Do we really believe this?
Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. (Luke 6:21,22,24,25)
We deny it to our peril, for there it is, firmly ensconced in the logos, the holy utterances of our Lord. But now, be honest; don't you wish these words weren't there? They are very troublesome, aren't they? Are all of our poor neighbors glory bound? Ourselves and all of our affluent friends condemned?
The words are so difficult to swallow that Luke, of all the Evangelists, is the only one to preserve them for our discomfiture. Luke! Why did you do it? Your fellow scribes did not find it necessary! Must you be so thorough?
Mark did not record these words. John failed to recall them. And Matthew, well, he couldn't forget them completely but even he chose to use another word of our Lord in their place, a word that says nothing directly about either poverty or wealth:Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3)There; that sounds much nicer. Thank you, Matthew! This goes down smooth, like a good cognac.
But my dear friends! Before you get too comfortable with Matthew and your daily imbibement, consider this testimony later in his gospel:And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23,24)Matthew! You have gone and spoiled it! We were so comfortable with you for a minute, there. Now, there is surely no way one can avoid this while remaining a disciple of Jesus. Every one of the synoptics carefully records these Words of our Lord. Why didn't all of you just forget that camel and that needle with its tiny eye, an eye so small one must squint to even see it?
That camel and that needle with its tiny eye constitute a powerful metaphor, so very powerful that it could never be forgotten. It simply will not go away! That is why Jesus chose to include it in his Holy Words -- so that the world can never forget, however much it tries! So, one may as well give up on trying to forget them now. We may ignore them now, but we can't forget them. And if we ignore them here and now, we can be very sure that we will confront them again -- there and then!
Since we can't forget these words, why don't we do something else? Why don't we consider them carefully so as to better understand them?
The Two "Greats"
The camel and the needle are radical enough, yet we cannot comprehend them unless we first go to a Word of our Lord that is even more radical, his Great Principle, that he returned to again and again as he sought to simplify his message. It underlies everything Jesus taught and did, including his words on the poor and the rich. The fourth gospel states it this way:He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)This is the "hard version" of the Great Principle, and it is were we must begin, for if you can imbibe this, the camel and the needle will be no problem. You may even be enabled to swallow this camel! (Matthew 23:24)
How is it relevant to the poor and the rich?
First, no one cares for wealth for its own sake. Do you like the taste of money? Is it palatable? Does it digest well, or does it cause gas?
No, the only reason anyone cares for wealth is what it can do for life in this world. We desire money only because it purchases comfort, security, status, respect, health care, shiny cars, fine homes, success and yes, fine cuisine that does not cause gas.
Wealth nourishes life in this world, and life cherishes wealth. Wealth nourishes and life cherishes. This relationship of mutual benefit has cemented both life and wealth into a permanent marriage, one from which there is no divorce.
Therefore it is absolutely impossible for us to appreciate what Jesus means, when he begins to utter words on poverty and wealth, until we have experienced a radical revolution in our attitude to life in this world. We must stop loving it and start hating it; then there is his good promise,. . . he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)Note carefully that there must be a proper reason for the hatred of life. This works only if we hate it for the sake of eternal life, which we cannot do properly until we have learned to value only the eternal verities. Hating life for any other reason only leads to despair, depression, disappointment and self destruction. From any other motive it is only a hatred of disappointed love.
What do we treasure in our hearts? Is it a heavenly treasure, or is it the things money can buy? We must, to conform to the Great Principle and to swallow that camel and needle, (ouch!) set our hearts on the things above, on the heavenly treasure and on the Father himself! For "where a man's treasure is, there will his heart be also":Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)Let us set our hearts on the Father! Then we will become obedient from the heart to the Great Commandment that Jesus gave to stand beside his Great Principle:And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37)When you love God with your all, your treasure is in heaven where your Father resides, and your heart is truly in heaven. You are free, perfectly free, to hate the life that is in this world and to want to leave it so as to go to your Father. Together with the Prodigal Son, you can truly and earnestly say, "I will arise and go to my Father!" Your treasure will no longer be in this world, and you will be able to swallow both the camel and the needle. Then, you can claim the promise of the Great Principle. Until then, it is better to forget the whole thing.
All of Jesus' utterances on the poor and the rich are framed against the background of these two "greats", the Great Commandment and the Great Principle. Now we can proceed to investigate the other utterances involving the rich and the poor because we have the tools we need to understand them. But first, we can apply a little common sense and clear logic and produce the following observations:1. The rich persons wealth does not condemn. It is the heart that will condemn the rich, and the only question to ask is, "Where is the heart?"
2. The poor persons poverty does not redeem. It is the heart that will redeem the poor, and the only question to ask is, "Where is the heart?"
3. The rich person has a great investment in the life of this world. Therefore it is very difficult for the rich to hate that life because of the wealth, so as to have eternal life.
4. The poor person has a small investment, or no investment, in the life of this world. Therefore it may be less difficult for the poor to hate that life because of the poverty, so as to have eternal life.
5. The poor therefore have a great advantage over the rich in the quest of
We are now in a position to understand all Jesus' utterances regarding the rich and the poor -- and to receive them -- if we have received the Great Commandment and the Great Principle. Let us briefly look and comment on the following selections:Now we see that it is not necessarily the poor person who is promised the kingdom. It is "the poor in spirit", a term that can include the rich as well as the poor. It also may exclude the poor as well as the rich! At first, Luke's version of the Beatitudes seemed harder and more specific. Now we see that Matthew's version is the more specific one. Its spectrum is broader, but its condition is the most rigid and specific. This speaks to the heart of man, not his possessions. One may be wealthy and also poor in spirit; one may be poor and not poor in spirit, as when the poor man covets the rich man's wealth.
1. The Blessing
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)Now we understand why Jesus was drawn to earth so as to fulfill this prophecy of Isaiah 61:1. It is the poor who are afflicted and without comfort. It is the poor who suffer hunger pangs and chills, often without hope. To them, to the poor, the realization that they can, by a stroke of simple faith, acquire eternal treasure, is the most wonderful good news. Therefore Jesus focussed the preaching of his good news on the poor, for to them it was truly good news. To them, the life in this world was and is terribly unpleasant. There are few enough of the poor who can hear and believe the Great Principle with its great promise, but the odds of Jesus' gaining disciples among them were much greater than from among the rich, so that he aimed his good news at them. The mercy of our Lord was poured out on the poor, and we see in all his encounters with them how his heart went out to them in their suffering.
2. Preaching Good News to the Poor
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. (Luke 4:18)This one with great possessions clearly wanted eternal life, but was not willing to pay the price. He could not fathom the Great Principle, or the Great Commandment, and his possessions possessed him. Then Jesus proceeded to present his great metaphor, the camel and the eye of a needle.
3. What do I Still Lack?
And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?"
And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments."
He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?"
Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; hard, but not impossible, for "with God all things are possible." I suppose God can even get the camel through the eye of the needle! Jesus encountered other wealthy persons whose possessions did not possess them. They met his approval because they were able to respond to the Great Commandment and the Great Principle. These include Joseph and Zacchaeus.
4. The Camel and the Eye of the Needle (again)
Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Then Peter said in reply, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?"
Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:23-30)Joseph was one of Jesus' disciples, and he was a rich man. How was that possible, given Jesus reference to the camel and the needle? Yet without a doubt Joseph had qualified for discipleship. He must have clearly defined his treasure in the light of the Great Principle and the Great Commandment and on that basis he was accepted, along with his wealth!
5. Joseph of Arimathea
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. (Matthew 27:57-60)Behold, we have here yet another rich man who received salvation ("salvation has come to this house"). We must be careful, though, that we do not make this mean more than it does. Why? Because Jesus did not call Zacchaeus a "son of God" but only "a son of Abraham". Now, Abraham was a servant of God and not a son; therefore we can safely conclude that Zacchaeus received salvation as a servant and not as a son. As the son of a servant, he belonged to the servant class. This illustrate once again how the Father's house, heaven, harbors servants in addition to sons according to the pattern of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet all, both the servants and the sons, receive salvation.
6. Zacchaeus of Jericho
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchae'us; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchae'us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today."
So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully.
And when they saw it they all murmured, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner."
And Zacchae'us stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold."
And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:1-10)Here, at last, we come to the "dogs" and the "sores" of our title. Dogs and sores speak of abject poverty; more than that, these dogs and these sores speak of total misery. This man was poor; he was covered with sores; he was lying with the dogs so as to subsist, no doubt, on the scraps that the rich man's servants cast out for the dogs. And the dogs licked the sores! Disgusting! Think, if you dare, of the terrible pain that filled every day of this poor man's life. And the nights! Ooooh, the looong miserable nights! With what was he covered? Sores! What are sores? Sores are that which is, by its very definition, sore! They hurt. And this poor soul was covered with them and was constantly turning and shifting his weight from one point on his sore body to another in a vain effort to ease the pain that the pressure on the sores produced.
7. The Rich Man and Lazarus
There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz'arus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz'arus in his bosom.
And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz'arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.'
But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'
And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'
But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'
And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.' (Luke 16:19-31)Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.Why did Jesus have to inject this unsavory comment? If he had left it out, wouldn't this parable have served his purposes just as well?
No, for it serves to emphasize the despicable misery of poor Lazarus as nothing else could have done. Have you noted the habits of dogs? From time to time, they lick themselves; then they sometimes lick one another; sometimes, one licks the sores of another! This miserable creature was accepted by the dogs as one of themselves! He had become one of the dogs! And the dogs were compassionate! They licked his sores!
But it does something else. It serves to emphasize the callousness of the rich man, for it shows that the dogs were more gracious and loving than he. The dogs licked his sores, but the rich man did nothing for him but let him lie! These dogs are better than the rich man; they are compassionate, merciful. It is not poor Lazarus, but the rich man who is disgusting!
Ah, the rich man! What a miserable excuse for a human being, who would dwell in luxury while a poor human bundle of raw sores groaned in agony at his gate and the dogs licked the sores. (Compassionate) But hold up a minute, before we come down too hard on the rich man. He had an excuse!
He was surely a religious man, you see, and if he was typical of the rich religious of First Century Palestine (or Twenty First Century America?) he would have felt himself fully justified. His wealth was, after all, the sure mark of his righteousness before God. It was only because of his righteousness that he prospered. As for the poor man, Lazarus, that lay at his gate, full of sores (and the dogs licked the sores -- compassionate!) -- as for him, he must have committed terrible crimes to have merited so terrible a lot in this life. (Who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be so poor and so full of sores? Disgusting!)
Whenever the rich man departed his estate on the way to worship with the brethren in the synagogue, or perhaps to attend to the offering at the Holy Temple, the gatekeepers kicked the dogs out of his way -- and also the poor man with the sores. And the rich man considered within himself, thinking, "Why do I suffer this ungrateful wretch to smear my gateway with his bloody filth? Ah, it is only by the kindness of my heart, for which my God has so richly blessed me!
The poor man, full of sores (and the dogs licked the sores -- compassionate!) had every reason to hate his life in this world, the rich man every reason to love the life that had bedecked him with great wealth, self respect, and righteous reputation before man. But the poor man qualified for the blessing of the Great Principle,"He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.It surely wasn't anything to love.
The rich man, on the other hand, surely qualified for the loss promised by the Great Principle:"He who loves his life loses it."And so it happened to them both, for they both died.
You see how it works?
It was not a public profession of faith that qualified the poor man for the bosom of Abraham. It was not baptism and church membership. What good pastor would condescend to baptize that bundle of raw flesh? It was not his tithes. What would he offer? A tithe of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table? It was not his righteous deeds, for he did nothing but lie and squirm and groan in agony while the dogs licked his sores. Disgusting!
Nor was it his righteousness that qualified the rich man for hades. His faithful tithing availed him nothing. Nor was it his remarkable beneficence in permitting the poor man to lie with the dogs at his gate. No. It was the Great Principle. He loved his life, and he lost it all because he loved it. You see how it works?
It is significant that Jesus does not suggest what this rich farmer might better have done with his excess. His only concern with this parable is the temptation to covetousness that is common to everyone. Adherence to the Great Principle is the only effective remedy, since one who hates his life in this world will not likely store up long term provisions to sustain that life.
8. Beware of All Covetousness
One of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me."
But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?"
And he said to them, "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'
And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.'
But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'
So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:13-21).Jesus highly commended the woman when she poured a flask of expensive ointment over his head to prepare him for burial, whereas the disciples with one voice condemned the act as a waste of what might better have been given to the poor. We can make the following observations from this event.
9. The Alabaster Flask
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table.
But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste?
For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor."
But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." (Matthew 26:6-13)
First, Jesus and his disciples had a strong sense of concern for the poor. Nevertheless, Jesus considered this "waste" to be an act of high honor for himself as a preparation for burial. It would seem to be a reasonable inference to make that apparently wasteful investments in the preparation of our loved ones for burial are justified, within reason, even though nearby poor persons are in great need. We will see below that there is other evidence of this concern for the poor within the small fellowship of Jesus and his disciples.
Second, Jesus anticipated an ongoing supply of "the poor" as the centuries pass, otherwise the Holy Spirit would not have confused us by preserving this utterance for our consideration. His expectation is confirmed by the simple fact that we do, indeed, yet have the poor with us. This anticipation on his part is consistent with what I believe is his conviction that this world is as it must be to fulfill its purpose before God, and no one has a commission to change it by eliminating poverty.
Third, consistent with the second observation just listed, Jesus must not have come to earth with any thought of a ministry aimed at providing a material or monetary supply for the poor. He came, precisely as Isaiah had prophesied, to preach the gospel to the poor.This text relates to an event in which Jesus was invited to dine in the home of a rich man. There are two separate admonitions to invite the "poor" to a banquet. The first is in a teaching delivered directly by Jesus to his host. The second he delivered in a parable that appeared to be aimed at the Jewish rulers and told as a judgment against them.
10. On Giving a Banquet
He said also to the man who had invited him, "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. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
When one of those who sat at table with him heard this, he said to him, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"
But he said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many;
and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for all is now ready.'
But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.'
And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.'
And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'
So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.'
And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.'
And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'" (Luke 14:11-24)
In the first, Jesus has simply instructed the host to invite to his banquets those who could not repay him by a reciprocal invitation. He specified these as "the poor, the lame, the maimed, and the blind." Because they cannot repay, those who do this will be repaid in the resurrection. By this Jesus revealed that the good deeds his disciples perform in such ministry to "the poor, the lame, the maimed, and the blind" will be rewarded, unless they have already been rewarded in this life. As in other texts listed above, this continues to reveal Jesus' deep concern for those who cannot care for themselves in this life and who suffer through no fault of their own.
We must acknowledge here that this does not constitute a commission to his disciples to mount a ministry specifically designed to provide food for the helpless. He said to his host, "Whenever you give a banquet . . .. Not, "You must immediately institute a program of relief for the poor and helpless, feeding them at your own table often and at stated times." There is a big difference. It shows a concern for the poor, but without a commission to enter into a ministry of providing for their material needs. I emphasize this, because it is so easy for us to loose sight of Jesus' prime focus, which is preaching the gospel to the poor. Neither here nor at any other time in the gospel record did Jesus commission his disciples to promote programs aimed at material supply of the needy. Besides this, the reason Jesus issued this instruction relative to banquets to this host had nothing to do with the poor. It was for the sake of the host's eternal blessing by rewards in heaven. If calls on him, and us, to seek the everlasting rewards, not to seek the praise of others and their reciprocal gifts.
Neither does the second admonition have anything directly to do with the poor. It appears to be a stern warning to the Jewish nation, especially to the rulers who were rejecting him. It is even possible that his host on this occasion was one of those at whom he aimed the parable. They were the first to receive the invitation to enter the kingdom of God, but, for a variety of reasons, they would not come. Therefore, their invitation was canceled while the invitation went out not only to the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind, but to anyone they could find in the "highways and hedges." This may be an early commission to the Gentile ministry.Jesus again exposes us to the contrast between the rich and the poor. It was no sacrifice and no hazard to life of the rich when they cast in out of their abundance. They were in love with life! But this poor woman, a real flesh and blood human being and not a parable character, this poor woman cast in "her whole living."
11. The Poor Widow
And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny.
And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living." (Mark 12:41-44)
You see how it works? No one could do that while in love with life. Her gift was her life, and she hated it according to the Great Principle; otherwise she could not have given the gift that was "her whole living."
This teaching is simply aimed at informing us that the Father values our contributions to his "treasury" on the basis of the love they represent, not on the size of the gift. This poor widow, putting in all that she had, her "whole living" manifested that she loved God with her all. The substantial gifts of the rich represented no drop in their living standard, and therefore were not valued by the Father. The Father does not need our money -- but he earnestly desires our love.
Yet another teaching of our Lord, a commandment, undoubtedly hovers in the background of this event. When we do alms (give to the poor) he said,"Let not your left hand know what the right hand is doing."The rich people should not have been putting in their large sums publicly, for this tempted them to self righteousness and indicated that they expected public applause for their substantial contributions. Such a gift from such a giver is never acceptable to the Father.
You see, they have their reward. The widow also cast in her contribution publicly, but it was so miserly in its amount that she and her gift would only be despised by those who saw her, except for Jesus. She received no reward in this life for her contribution; therefore her reward is laid up in heaven.So, when Jesus sent out the man who held the money box, the disciples either of two things: he was sent out to purchase more food for the feast, or he was sent out to contribute something to the poor.
12. A Contribution to the Poor
When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me."
The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.
One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, "Tell us who it is of whom he speaks."
So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, "Lord, who is it?"
Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it." So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly."
Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the feast"; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night. (John 13:21-30)
Isn't that odd? It was reasonable for them to think he was sent out to buy more food, (at least, they hoped!). But why would they think that Jesus was sending Judas out, in the middle of the meal, to give something to the poor?
I don't know the answer to this question, but I can guess. This thought makes perfect sense if Jesus had a practice, whenever they feasted thus, at the same time to make a contribution to the poor. It would have been a means of teaching the disciples, in the midst of enjoying any repast, to remember to share their bounty with those who were hungry. In any case, this incident suggests that the disciples had learned from experience that Jesus was always concerned for the poor and that he had at other times send Judas out to make a contribution.
1. Jesus generally defined four categories of unfortunates: the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. Sometimes he added the sick and the captives. He saw them as objects of mercy and prime candidates for the gospel.
2. The objects of mercy will never be ignored by those who are children of the Father, because He is merciful. "Be you merciful" said Jesus, "as your Father is merciful." Those who are not merciful are not children of the Father.
3. Jesus viewed the rich as being near hopeless cases, yet, "all things are possible with God." There was at least one rich man, Joseph, among his disciples. Perhaps also Zacchaeus and others.
4. The key, for Jesus, is not what one does or does not possess. It is, what does one treasure?
5. One's treasure is important only because, as Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." The final determinant is the heart. What one treasures is a sure indicator.
6. Reward is a key to Jesus' thinking. He was extremely concerned that his disciples do nothing that would result in a reward here and now. Invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind to your feasts, for they cannot reward you. Then you will be rewarded at the resurrection of the just. In giving alms, do not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Then your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6;1)Our piety will not be rewarded twice, both here and now, and there and then. We choose, perhaps without realizing it, where and when we are to be rewarded.
7. The Great Principle becomes relevant at this point. The individual that loves his life in this world must inevitably be motivated by primary concerns that include the protection and security of life. He will also be motivated by a desire for the praise and honor of his contemporaries, and for the respect that material success purchases from the similarly minded individuals that comprise the population. Such considerations work together to cause him to treasure material wealth and despise to some degree those who are poor. His treasure cannot be in heaven, and he cannot love God as Father with his all. Because he loves the life of this world, his heart resides here.
It is for this reason that Jesus emphasized how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. He is hopeless until he embraces the Great Principle and thus qualifies for eternal life. Wealth, honor, and respect are the treasures he seeks. They are the rewards of this world. Whoever persists in treasuring them will never be rewarded for anything by the Father in heaven.
The same applies to the poor man who covets the rich man's wealth. He, too, treasures what is in this life, and is as far removed from the eternal treasure as is his rich neighbor.
He yet loves his life in this world and thinks of how wonderful it would be if only he could win the lottery or strike it rich at the casino. However, because this life has not been good to the poor man, or the lame, the maimed, or the blind, he is much more likely to question his love for it than is the rich man. Nevertheless, unless he complies with the Great Principle, he, too is bereft of heavenly rewards. Poverty in itself is no qualification for eternal life. Many persons have thought otherwise because they have misunderstood the words of Jesus as he describes the last judgment:When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.It is a common misunderstanding to read this judgment and suppose it applies to those who minister to the poor in a general sense. Who is it that is hungry and without food, thirsty and without drink, naked and without clothing? Is it not the poor? And is it not often the poor who are sick for lack of medical care and in prison for lack of good counsel, even though innocent? So it is that many conclude that ministering to the poor as such will surely purchase a great reward on that day.
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:31-40)
We need to read carefully. We will question this conclusion if we take it all in, including the last statement of the Judge,". . . as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."These hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned persons are poor, to be sure, but they are also the brothers (or sisters) of Jesus. Furthermore, they are most certainly hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison because of their testimony to his Truth in this world. To feed, give the cup of water, clothe and visit, when sick and imprisoned' just any poor soul doesn't qualify one for this judgment. These particular poor souls are in need because they have embraced the Great Principle of Jesus. They have forsaken everything to become a disciple of his and they are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or in prison because of their testimony. These have suffered great tribulation precisely because they have become disciples, or brethren, of Jesus -- a treatment they have endured only because they have learned to hate their lives in this world for the sake of life eternal.
For confirmation, let us focus on the single act of giving a cup of water to the thirsty "brethren" of Jesus, and look elsewhere in his word. We find what we seek with the following text:For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward. (Mark 9;41)What reward? Surely the one defined above:Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; (Matthew 25:34)Therefore, we are assured that the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned raised before us here are a special category of poor persons, those who are "my brethren" and who "bear the name of Christ". For more on this, go to the following link: Cup of Water.
8. With Jesus, all giving to the poor must be subcategorized into two: giving to those who are simply poor, and giving to those who are poor because of their testimony to Jesus. As we search the gospels and seek out the truth from the many references to the poor in Jesus' words and from his example, we find that he gave to those who are simply poor because he had mercy on them, and so will his disciples in the world today. The Father is merciful, therefore his sons and daughters are also merciful. Jesus showed his mercy in many instances listed and discussed above, and set the example. So, following him we will minister to the poor wherever we encounter them. Mercy demands it.
This is not always for the sake of the poor person who receives. In the case of the rich man whom Jesus counseled to sell everything and give to the poor, and "come, follow me", it was for the sake of the rich man who was asked to give, not for the poor who would have been in receipt of his wealth. Both would benefit, of course -- the rich man spiritually, the poor man materially.
In giving to those who are simply poor, it is imperative that you "let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing." If the secret is out, you will receive the applause of your peers. That will enhance your reputation and the respect others accord you. You will have your reward, and you will not receive another.
But in giving to those who are poor because of their testimony to Jesus, you will find yourself in an environment where those who thus witness are hated and persecuted, and you will also be hated and persecuted by your peers for aiding and abetting them , should they discover you are doing it. This charitable work is radically different from giving to those who are simply poor, and rather than keeping it secret, you must do it openly without fear of those who will hate you for it, for that is the significance of true witness. You surely will not be rewarded by your peers with anything but a hard time. Thus by doing it, and by doing it openly, you bear witness openly to the world of the love of Jesus and of your obedience to his simple commandment,Love one another as I have loved you.You will receive a great reward in heaven.
So, no one will receive a double reward, both here and hereafter.
9. Finally, we have one more conclusion to list. Just this: Jesus does not call his disciples to engage in deliberate, planned or extensive campaigns for relief of those who are simply poor. Search the gospels and you will see that never did he engage in such a mission himself, or even suggest that his disciples should do so. His benevolence was always the result of chance encounters. The reasons for this seem very obvious:(1) It is difficult if not impossible to conduct such a mission secretly and maintain the unalloyed motive of pure mercy. Thus one would receive a reward in this life and none in heaven. I have just this day read an article in the local newspaper about a group of Christians from a nearby church who are consistently doing this very thing, doing it publicly, and being praised for it in the local newspaper. They have their reward. Can you hear his voice, dear friends?10. What we have said about relief efforts for those who are simply poor also applies to those who are maimed, lame, blind, in prison, even those who are sick. We must, secretly, do what we can for them as we encounter them. When a good cause cannot be pursued secretly, we must weigh this against the prospect of no reward at the resurrection of the just and the consequences of relaxing one of the Lord's commandments. We must not dehumanize those who are in need, robbing them of all self respect by ministering to them on the assumption that they can never care for themselves. There is much wisdom and Jesus - like compassion in the saying, "Give them a hand up, not a hand out."
(2) It is placing the emphasis on the material and not on the spiritual relief of the poor. Jesus came "to preach the gospel to the poor", not to provide for their welfare. When they came to hear him in great numbers, he sometimes fed them while preaching to them. He understood that the gospel goes down better on a full belly. But that is all there was to it. The next day they were hungry again, and he rebuked them because he perceived that they came, not to hear the good news, but because they had eaten of the loaves and hoped to do so again.
(3) It is dehumanizing to those who are simply poor. It assumes they are less than they ought to be because they are not able to take care of themselves. It takes to oneself a responsibility that belongs to the poor -- that for caring for themselves so as not to be a burden to others. If there is anything we have learned form the failed enterprises of the welfare state, is that those who receive the dole too often learn to depend on it, and thus lose a great measure of their humanity and of their self respect. This is not loving your neighbor. Welfare universally becomes a self-destructive way of life. Jesus knows what is in man, and he therefore does not initiate welfare programs for those who are simply poor..
(4) Jesus, in the image of his Father, had great compassion and manifested mercy on the poor, the lame, the maimed, and the blind. He did it in the course of wayfare surprises, not welfare enterprises, and he illustrated it in like manner. One of his best illustrations is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The hapless unfortunate wayfarer had been attacked by thieves, highwaymen who left him penniless and maimed. The Samaritan, "as he journeyed, came to where he was." Note carefully that he was just there "as he journeyed." This Samaritan was not out looking for victims to succor. It was a chance encounter. But he encountered a fellow human being who was helpless and desperate, and he tended to his immediate needs and made provision for him until he could care for himself. That was mercy; that was love. The Samaritan was alone; he did his act of mercy alone; he went on his way alone. He received no reward so he will receive it in heaven. That was all there was to it.
(5) Any continuing welfare program for the able bodied, whether private, religious, or public, dehumanizes the poor, yes, but it also despiritualizes the donors. In the very midst of earnestly pursuing "good works" they inevitably fall in the the trap of depending on the resulting praise for their self respect. Again, they have their reward. They will receive no other.
(6) Continuous and consistent relief programs for those who are simply poor inevitably result in causing their supporters to think that they have a commission to change the world by doing what they can to eliminate poverty. Thus, again, they collapse into evil.
(7) Giving alms is a wonderful expression of mercy, and puts one in the category of the merciful, as the Father is merciful. Nevertheless it is an act of disobedience when we enter with others into a cooperative or organized program to assist the poor, the lame, the maimed, the blind, the sick, and the captives. Look at the commandment of the Lord:But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3)It is simply impossible for two or more people to conduct a joint benevolence in obedience to this command. The benevolence of the disciples of Jesus must be that of the individual. It is secret.
Still, it seems unreasonable for disciples of Jesus to refuse to participate in any of the many joint benevolence that are ongoing in society solely for the sake of secrecy. Such a practice of refusal could very well become, perhaps subconsciously, an excuse for a selfish and wealthy person to keep his wealth, unless he proceeded to do as much or more for the cause secretly than he would have been doing publicly.
Furthermore, ". . . let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing" is obviously an absurd exaggeration, impossible to obey in practice. It we seek to comply with it as literally as possible, we will find it impossible to obey other counsels of Jesus, such as this one:12 He said also to the man who had invited him, "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 now, let's put up the context of the left hand/right hand rule and we will see that it exist for the very same reason as this banquet/dinner rule:
13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind,
14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14)1 "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.Do you see that in both cases, the counsel is intended to protect the disciples reward "at the resurrection of the just?" There is a general rule in the kingdom of God, rooted in the Great Principle, according to which one will not receive rewards for almsgiving and other ministries to the poor from men and also from the Father in the resurrection.
2 "Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)
In the case of the feast, invite the poor because they cannot repay you, and your wealthy friends and relatives certainly will not reward you for feeding these "miserable strangers" in preference to them. So, in this case, secrecy is not an issue.
But in the case of simple almsgiving to those who are simply poor, secrecy is an issue because, although the poor are not likely to repay you, men will honor you for your generosity. You will be thus repaid and there will be no reward for you at the resurrection of the Just!
I have said above that the right hand / left hand rule is an absurd exaggeration, but Jesus clearly made such absurd statements for the purpose of making the strongest impression on his disciples about extremely important issues. This is important! There will be times when love for our neighbors will lead us to relax this absurdly rigid rule. But we must keep in mind, when we engage in benevolence that will reward us either with an earthly return on our investment, as in the feast, or with an enhanced reputation, as in the case of almsgiving, that another of Jesus' counsels comes into play:Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
And leave no fingerprints.
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