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Good news for the poor?

IN PREPARATION for this article I came across the following insightful statement (source unknown):

“I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn’t poor, I was needy.

“Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy. I was deprived.

“Then they told me that it was bad for my ego to think of myself as deprived, I was really underprivileged.

“Then they told me that underprivileged was overused. I was disadvantaged. I still don’t have any money.

“But I have a great vocabulary.”

There is an insidious and dangerous theology that is being promoted these days in some parts of the Christian Church, which encourages people to believe that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and favour.

While it is not usually said, the opposite reality is clearly inferred: if you are struggling financially it must be because you have displeased God in some way and are therefore being punished.

History does repeat itself it seems.

At the time Jesus was telling the story about the rich man and Lazarus (recorded in Luke:16), the same theology was popular.

The rich were being blessed. The poor were being punished.

You can imagine therefore the kind of reception this story received as, yet again, Jesus confronted the demons that were so rampant in the society of his day.

There is nothing complicated about this story.

Jesus takes hold of a popular myth and explodes it in a few sentences.

The rich man ignores the plight of Lazarus in his own lifetime and pays the ultimate penalty.

He thought that his wealth and position were a gift from God, but discovered that his indifference and selfishness had separated him from God forever.

Lazarus the beggar lived his miserable life on the edge of starvation. His only companions the dogs who licked his sores, but he came to realise that he had a special place in the heart of God.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus anticipates a better world where those who have the capacity and the willingness offer support and hope to those whose lives are demeaned by prejudice, violence or unrelenting poverty.

God calls you and me to be active and committed participants in the transformation of our society.

At the inaugural Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977 we acknowledged that our response to the Christian gospel would require us to be involved in social and national affairs.

A Statement to the Nation was issued at that time which said in part:

We pledge ourselves to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur.
We will work for the eradication of poverty and racism within our society and beyond.
We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor.

As individuals and as the Church we are called to stand in solidarity with people who are experiencing poverty, those who are marginalised or dislocated, or who are living on the fringes of our society.

Poverty stands in opposition to the Christian understanding of what it means to be human.

It violates human dignity and basic human rights.

The persistence of poverty in a country as wealthy as our own reflects poorly on our standing as a compassionate society.

Faithfulness to God expressed through justice for the poor, the social outcasts, the widows and orphans, and the refugees was the primary message of the Old Testament prophets.

We can so easily become preoccupied with ourselves and too readily indifferent to our calling in Christ to be a strong, prophetic presence and voice in our society.

Through learning, prayer and action we can deepen the Church’s engagement with the poor and help reduce poverty, both within our own society and around the world.