My church has a small house group in an area of our town that is experiencing some problems: many are poor, kids hang around in gangs and from time to time there is a riot when the youth destroy people’s cars in protest. We want to reach out to the people in this area and love to invite new people to our group. We especially love to connect with Muslims and share what Jesus has done for us with them.
Two months ago a Romanian family moved nextdoors. I have known this family for years and it ess actually I who helped them get the apartment. They are Roma and has been suffering from discrimination both in Romania and in Sweden. For a long time they were forced to beg on the streets, but the father, Christi, really try to get a job. By the grace of God, he has learned fluent Swedish with hardly any education.
We invited them to our house group. The children have an endless amount of energy, but finally we managed to read the Bible. We read through the Gospel according to Luke, and we had now come to chapter 6. I started to read in Swedish, and Christi continued in Romanian:
Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)
Christi’s voice cracked up when he read these divine words. It wasn’t easy. But we continued:
Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (vv. 30-31)
When we were done, many of us didn’t say anything. But Christi started commenting “It sure doesn’t feel like we are blessed. It’s very, very hard to be poor, and I often cry at night because I don’t know how to give food to my children. But in my heart I know that God is good and He will help us.”
These were famous lines for me. They have been very central in my activist theology, and I often quote them to convince my fellow Christians that we shouldn’t be rich, that we should give to the poor. But here, “we” were poor. Christi read it from the opposite angle. And he was perplexed by Jesus’ paradox of the poor and suffering being fortunate and the wealthy and well fed being the ones in danger.
After all, Jesus said “blessed are you who are poor” to His disciples, He expects those who follow Him to be poor. When a rich guy occasionally wanted to join Him He told the man to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor first (Mt 19:21).
Me and my fellow Swedish friends that were present that evening, had an eye-opener. Jesus said “give to everyone who asks you”. Here was a family that had been asking thousands of people for money in order to survive, and only a tiny minority have responded. The majority ignores them and then demands that begging should be illegal. What an anti-Christian behaviour!
Shane Claiborne writes in The Irresistible Revolution that he interviewed people who defined themselves as Bible-believing, born again evangelicals and asked them if Jesus spent time with the poor. 85% said yes (I wonder what Bible the other 15% believed in?). Then Shane asked them if they spent time with the poor, and only 10-15% said yes. It’s a great tragedy that rich people don’t know the poor. We need to build relationships across socio-economic borders and promote socio-economic equality, so that no one is rich and no one is poor.