In the passing days, weeks, and months, my compassion and heart for the poor, and subsequently the nations, has seemed to grow tenfold. Sleepless nights, daily commutes, and restless thoughts have become friends with my current Jerusalem (Manila), Samaria (Iloilo), and the Ends of the Earth (India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Burma). I have come to realize that Jesus’ comfort of rest to the weary and heavy laden applies to more than just physical exhaustion, but also includes emotional, spiritual, and social unrest. But that His Rest does extend to the whole person, so amidst our persecutions and suffering, we can have Peace. A Peace that surpasses understanding.
The burden of which I speak, and the peace and rest which is offered to those of us who carry this burden, is, to my knowledge, never felt by the majority of the human race. At this point in my life, after 28 years on this earth, I think this burden, and the Rest, can only be carried and experienced by those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ and who have a relationship with the poor.
I have recently discovered that a certain denomination here in the Philippines, closely associated with, and even formerly a daughter organization of my own denomination back in the States has been engaged in ministry here in the Philippines now for 113 years! Yet, though they have had a healthy relationship with the Lord, leading to over 800 churches and five major institutions (2 hospitals and 3 academic institutions) around the country, there has been very little intentional relationship with the urban poor (though much with rural poor). In fact, the belief to this day (at least in cities), is that churches must be planted for the rich and middle class, after which “outreach” can be done for the poor. Yet this strategy has failed to reach every city, town, and mountainside (including none of their 800+ churches in urban poor communities here in the Philippines).
Why, you may ask? Because rich and middle class churches function to reward and cater to the rich and middle class, and to keep out, be it intentionally (gates, security guards, etc.), or unintentionally (air-conditioning that makes it uncomfortably cold for the poor who live without it, an unwritten dress code, and locations only accessible by a private car).
I don’t say all of this against the denomination of which I speak here in the Philippines, nor against my own denomination back in the States (but I do however bear much sorrow as part of these denominations that we have not had more emphasis on the urban poor). Rather, these are words of concern and rebuke against the gospel of many resource rich and power saavy leadership structures and teaching, not unlike the structure and teaching of the Pharisees, Saducees, and teachers of religious law of Jesus’ day. It is a message to those then, and those of us today who don’t take Jesus’ teaching and example of servant leadership seriously. Or the teaching of James.
Recently I have come to understand why the rich need the poor, that is a relationship and genuine generosity toward them, more than the poor need the rich. Though I have been hearing this statement repeated over the last year on a number of occasions by one of the directors of my missional community, it didn’t fully register until recently. Maybe partly because I come from a rich family (top 1% of the world) and it takes longer for me to fully understand a theology that includes, and even favors, the poor (or majority of the world).
The rich need the poor more than the poor need the rich, because all throughout the Scriptures, and especially in the book of James God tells us that our faith is dead without works, and useless without a genuine concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the homeless. Without a desire for justice, our religion, and our faith, is empty. In fact, even our relationship with Jesus might be called into question. He says himself that it is in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, and caring for the sick that we encounter the person of Jesus himself. And that without this encounter we will be counted with the goats that have no share or future in the Kingdom.
So why is it that this message has been absent from the language and teaching of both my own and our daughter denomination that I recently encountered here in the Philippines, causing there to be no intentional church planting emphasis or training amongst the urban poor? Maybe it is the same reason that one of the most esteemed authors of our day, the author of the best seller Purpose Driven Life, can write a commentary on James without any real engagement or challenges for the believer to seek out relationship and generosity with the poor. Or the reason we are so quick to simply spiritualize the beatitudes. Or just read the ones in Matthew and not Luke. We simply have not been given the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
I dare you to read the blessings and woes in Luke 6 from the perspective of the poor and in light of Jesus’ inaugural address in Luke 4. It changed my life. And I pray it would change yours. And I pray, in the words of Mother Teresa, that we might all see that the poor are everywhere. If we would only have the eyes to see them.
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 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.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
because great is your reward in heaven.
For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 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.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.