What does ‘poor’ look like?
Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbour, not exacting it from a neighbour who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you.
There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.
If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.
Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’, and therefore view your needy neighbour with hostility and give nothing; your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.
Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’
If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you for six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing-floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you.
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you’, because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave for ever.
You shall do the same with regard to your female slave.
Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired labourers; and the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.
When I read this passage in preparation for this reflection earlier this week, I could not help but chuckle to myself. Some of you may or may not know that over the past few months I have been co-ordinating the food ministry across Church Wigan. Alongside a fantastic team of volunteers, we have been showing God’s love in action by physically feeding over 500 of the most vulnerable members of our communities, across our town.
Verse 7 and 8 of our Deuteronomy reading today says:
“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. Rather, be open-handed and freely lend them whatever they need.”
Verse 10 and 11 then go on to say;
“Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”
It struck me while reading these verses that for many of us ‘the poor and needy’ are those around us who cannot, or at least struggle to, afford the basic items they need each day to survive (food, electricity, housing, clothing etc…). And to be fair, it is these very people that our passage is referring to.
Yet I can’t help but ask myself, are these the only people who are ‘poor’? Would I refer myself as being poor and needy? Would you?
Maybe when it comes to finances or material things, or even when it comes to love, or our relationships and friendships, we may feel incredibly rich, and on the contrary feel blessed by all the things and people that God has given us.
As a result it may not even enter our heads to place ourselves into this category; but if we are entirely honest, we can all be poor in different ways and at different times of our lives.
When you look up the word ‘poor’ there are many different definitions that you can find. The first being the most obvious “lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society” and I suppose this is how we most commonly use this word.
However there are also other definitions such as “of a low or inferior standard or quality”, or “(of a person) deserving of pity or sympathy”. Yet the definition that really stuck out for me and the one which I would like us to particularly focus on is as follows: to be poor is to be “deficient or lacking in something”.
I am not sure about you, but certainly for me, the past few months has made me become more acutely aware of this.
For the past 5 months, what we have known to be normal, has been completely turned upside down. Our routines, our work-life, our home-life, our church-life, our social-lives – all have been massively disrupted and disturbed. Everything we knew is no longer familiar, and instead we live in a constant state of the unknown, the chaotic, and uncertainty.
Some may find this exhilarating or at least may have done at the start, but we are now nearly six months in and things are just as uncertain as they were at the beginning. Yes, some things may have restarted but they are far from what they were, or what we are used to, and don’t even resemble anything that we would call normal.
Even this week the goal posts have changed once again after the recent government announcement and it feels like the floor is moving beneath our feet.
Some who felt that they were rich before, may have taken a huge financial hit in the past few months. Some whom felt they had everything they needed to survive, may be feeling the burden of recent times. Some who had an array of family and friends, may now be feeling the massive loss of not being able to see, or socialise, or even touch those they love most.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, this is no different. I am sure we have all felt the strain over the last few months of not being able to physically meet to receive the love, support and fellowship of our church family. For some, the fast from receiving from God in physical worship, or in the Eucharist, may have taken its toll in ways that we never imagined.
Whether we have followed Jesus for years or only a matter of days or weeks, none of us can truly fathom the love that God has for each and every one of us. As humans we simply fall short and none of us can fully know what and how much he can do for us. In fact we are told in our bibles that he can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3.20). Therefore we are all poor when it comes to understanding the One who is the Creator of the Universe and source of all life.
In Matthew 5.3 Jesus says ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ If you put the word “humble” in place of the word “poor,” we only just begin to understand what Jesus meant when he said this.
We must be humble in our spirits. In other words, when we come to God, we must realise our own sin and our own spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. Pride can take all kinds of forms, but the worst it is said spiritual pride. Often the richer we are in things, the poorer we are in our hearts.
Most of us like to be self-reliant and self-efficient. None of us really like to admit that we are poor or needy, or that we are somehow lacking in something that we need to survive and/or thrive. For some of us it is easier to help those ‘others’ who are in need or who are in our eyes ‘poor’, without actually examining ourselves and our own hearts and facing our own poverty, whatever that looks like.
Yet “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
So I suppose the challenge for us all today, is to lay down our own pride, to acknowledge and accept our own poverty and neediness, and to turn to God in humility and faith, knowing that he can do immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine.
I believe that it is only once we have done this, can we freely and generously give, in the way that Deuteronomy talks about, with open hands to those who are poor and needy in our land.
Associate Hub Leader
(North West Hub)