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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 05 January 2017

WHY GOD FAVORS THE POOR

By Jim Jordal

My brothers, don't hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, "Sit here in a good place;" and you tell the poor man, "Stand there," or "Sit by my footstool;" haven't you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn't God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him?

James 2:1-5 WEB

It may shock some of us, but Scripture supports the view that God favors the poor precisely because some of their characteristics and strengths are closer to what God wants than are many of the rituals and traditions of the modern church. In other words, God has, as Liberation Theologians hold, a “preferential option” for the poor.

Notice in the reading above that our human nature responds favorably to the appearances of personal quality like gold rings and fine apparel, but tends to marginalize or even reject those not dressed or behaving according to our expectations. So we often judge by appearances rather than by character, usually at great loss to ourselves and our ecclesiastical institutions.

Perhaps God’s preference for the poor had something to do with the circumstance of Jesus’ birth. There he was, born to unwed parents, naked, alone, without house, home, an undocumented immigrant, surrounded by a society violent and fearful enough to order all children under the age of two to be killed. Doesn’t at all look like a favorable situation, does it? 

On the surface of things Jesus appeared more as a victim of prejudicial partiality than a future king. Partiality becomes a sin when it excludes or marginalizes people based upon anything other than character. But we use race, gender, wealth, bodily characteristics, speech patterns, clothing, and modes of transportation to assign worth to individuals. This assignment of worth based upon observable yet often totally insignificant appearances is a form of judgmentalism that creates a social ranking system very damaging to what we normally think of a Christian values---love, acceptance, toleration, personal respect and others. At its worst it becomes a caste system assigning total life in a community to racial and family background.

God especially values the poor of this world because of their richness in faith. They must be rich in faith because often they have nothing else, especially not the indicators of status used by the world to assign personal worth. The poor as a necessity must depend upon God for virtually everything they have.

Don’t make the classic error of using individual bad behavior to disparage an entire group of people. Every group has “bad apples” that reflect badly on other members, but they do not make up the ethos, or character of the group. To claim that the poor are what they are because they won’t work is to ignore all other causes of unemployment like shortage of jobs, needs for advanced training, health issues, inadequate transportation, and poverty-level wages that make it almost useless to work.

However, it’s in their society itself that the poor find the most rejection and suffering. The prophet Isaiah condemns the callousness and arrogance of the leaders of society with these stinging words: “The plunder of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, and grinding the faces of the poor? says the Lord God” (Isa. 3:14b-15). And the Psalmist asks: “Shall the throne of iniquity, that devises evil by law, have fellowship with you?” (Psalms 94:20).

If the generic church is to be the custodian of moral values for the culture, what does that say to us about what the church needs to do about poverty? We may not be able to openly engage evil devised by law, or declare evil laws unconstitutional, but we can “speak truth to power,” by resolutely declaring in the various media what God says about the many national issues that create poverty through their very existence.

A new government is now ready to assume power. Why don’t we attempt to decry any unjust legislation we see, and call for removal by due process of those creating and implementing these laws. That’s “speaking truth to power,” and that’s true patriotism.