Not long ago a young friend posted on his Facebook page something he had picked up asserting that the churches of the country, not the government, have the responsibility for caring for the poor. The short piece boldly stated that the bible says so. I’ve heard that before in casual conversations around the Y locker room and elsewhere.
As I pour through the scriptures, I can find dozens of passages where the people of God are commanded to care for the poor, as both individuals and society, but nowhere can I find such a commandment directed at synagogue or church. I can find passages in Acts and Paul’s letters urging local congregations to care for the needy in their midst, but, unless I’m missing something, nothing about the needy in general.
More especially, the ethical prophets have a great deal to say about how kings, the wealthy, and society as a whole, had failed to address issues of justice, fairness and the needs of the poor. God was not pleased. To me the message is unmistakable, God expects society to be organized and governed so that justice and fairness extend to the poor and needy. To be sure, Jesus and the writers of letters have little to say about government, and much to say about individual responsibilities to God. But to carry out those godly responsibilities in daily secular life can be accomplished only by doing what one can to influence the rules by which we live together, especially as they impact the lives of the poor and needy.
Our governments are not alien creatures forced on an unwilling people. Our governments are not the enemy. They are the collective wisdom of the people making decisions, through their elected representatives, about how we will live together as a society. Over the short history of our nation, our governments, at all levels, have lurched toward a more godly form of justice, in part because some Christians have engaged their secular political lives as guided by God in Christ Jesus.
What bothers me now is that the loudest voices claiming to represent our collective wisdom seem to be hard of hearing, shortsighted, and ill informed, but maybe that’s part of what lurching toward godly justice has to endure. I’m reminded that Jesus healed the deaf, blind and dumb once, and he can do it again.