Lesson on poverty


I have always wondered why Jesus came into this world poor. Why not rich with all the luxuries and pleasures of life? He could have conjured wealth if he wanted. After all He showed that he could when he brought out a coin from the mouth of a fish in the book of Matthew1.

I think it was because he wanted us to learn how to be detached from the pleasures of this world.

Detachment in the loose sense of the word means an inability to connect2 (Wikipedia). It is a state of independence from persons, objects and even ideas. One who is detached is very free from the attachment that can be formed as a result of the influence, pressure or pleasure arising from the use of or association with an object or thing. It is like experiencing but without any sentiment. It may not necessarily mean coldness or aversion but mainly staying objective and not allowing one’s decision to be influenced by the pleasure that may be derived from the activity or object to the extent of being unable to let go of it at any point in time.

Jesus did not want us to be distracted by wealth and riches if he possessed them. We could have undermined his ministry and thought “Well, he was able to do that because he was rich enough to afford it”. He constantly wanted us to appreciate the temporary nature of such worldly treasures. Everything material is passing. Heaven and earth as mighty as they are will surely pass away3. Remember that Jesus is the living word. It was his way of saying that “he” was going to stay relevant.

By coming into the world in poverty, he was able to connect with both the rich and the poor. His message became universal. How many times have we undermined “celebrities” who try to be humanitarian, caring and loving by thinking that they are not in touch with the realities of the common men on the street? We reinforce that feeling with the thought that they are able to express their kind gestures only because they can afford to. We place them on a pedestal and feel that they are not in the real world. We accept their kindness but reject some of their genuine motives.

By being poor, Jesus became more of a man like us all. He automatically showed that he was in touch with our realities. His examples became iconic as they were expressed despite his lowliness and lack of material wealth. He cut through the divide of the man-made strata of rich, poor, fortunate or unfortunate, healthy or sick.

The type of poverty that Jesus possessed went beyond earthly poverty based only on possessions and amassing wealth. It also included poverty of hearts leading to humility. He reiterated it throughout his teachings. Jesus shows us the ultimate example by washing his disciple’s feet4. He taught the lesson of humility and service. Service in love and not in thinking too highly of one‘s self. A lesson that keeps us remembering that we are dust and dust shall we return5.

Jesus also pointed out the advantage of poverty as a means to perfection. He once asked a rich young man to sell all his belongings and give to the poor to complete his quest for perfection6.Of all the commandments that one can keep, the commandment of absolute surrender, complete trust and confidence in God’s providence completes our selfless service to God. Embracing poverty means thinking nothing of one’s self, stepping out and sharing all we have- material and immaterial with others until we leave our body and soul empty enough to be completely filled by the providence of the spirit of God. The possession of material wealth gives an assurance and confidence in our ability to stand on our feet irrespective of where life throws us. Except we can rid ourselves of this feeling, we will be unable to connect with the complete trust in God that can easily be experienced in poverty.

Wealth can be material or immaterial. The wealth we can see and touch is material while the wealth we cannot see and touch is immaterial. Immaterial wealth can also be as distractive as tangible material wealth. Some examples of immaterial wealth include things like power, knowledge and fame. All wealth must be used to glorify God in order to encourage poverty in our hearts. Wealth and worldly possessions are not bad in themselves but they can distract the mind that seeks God. We cannot serve two masters7, so we must choose who we shall serve8. It is always a tough choice we must always bear in mind because everything will pass away in the end.

It is in our nothingness that our complete trust in God is exercised. As there is no hope elsewhere but to trust the alpha and omega to turn our situation around while making it bearable as it persists.

Such trust has been rewarded on several occasions. In the Bible, the story unfolds about a widow who amidst drought and abject poverty gave Elijah the prophet her last morsel of bread in charity and love9. We see she was rewarded with a constant supply of flour. This is the confidence we have that our God will continue to reward the love we show in poverty.

Jesus is also not in any way looking for hand-outs from people. We know some preachers emphasise giving and giving as a means to an end. Some say you give and God will continually bless you. Firstly, what is important is your disposition as you give. We should give without grudging. We must give without showing off. We must give because of love not just because we can give10. See the story of the widow’s mite in the bible11. Jesus emphasises on the sacrificial nature of the widow’s gift. It showed complete confidence in the divine provision of God. Giving must be without reservation and out of true love for God and not because we are coerced by any sweet tongued person.

God does not need our gifts to bless us. We receive from God by grace. Not because we are perfect but because he loves us. God does not need anything from us. All he wants is a broken spirit and a contrite heart12. So let our physical and material poverty like Christ work constantly in us and bear the fruits of humility, love and contrition in us. In Jesus name …. Amen

Footnotes

  1. Matthew 17:27
  2. Matthew 24:35
  3. Wikipedia
  4. John13:12-17
  5. Genesis 3:19
  6. Matthew 19:21
  7. Matthew 6:24
  8. Joshua 24:15
  9. 1 Kings 17:7-16
  10. 2 Cor 9:7
  11. Matthew 21:3-4
  12. Psalm 51:17

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