Helping the Poor, Biblically
The Bible gives us truth on every subject. And since the same Ruach Chodesh (Holy Spirit) inspired it, and Yashua ha Meshiach (Jesus the Messiah) is Himself the Living Word of His Father, Abba (also known as Elohim and Yahweh), we can learn deeper truths by comparing Scripture with Scripture.
There are many ways to approach the topic of: shouldn’t Christians be for welfare and tax money used to help poor people? Doesn’t the Bible command us to help the poor? Certainly – we, as believers, are to give of our abundance to help our neighbors: anyone who has a need.
So let’s look at someone in the Bible and see what THAT person did. The Bible is a long book – surely we can find some teaching on this. Let’s start with Yashua – that would make sense, since He is the Risen Lord, the only God-man who ever lived. How did HE deal with the poor? What was HIS ministry like? Well, we all know one thing: Jesus spent a great deal of His time in His ministry healing people. Jesus healed so many people, it’s been said that He banished disease from Galilee. Other than in His own hometown of Nazareth, He spent hour after hour, healing as many people as could get to Him. For some, the healing was spiritual – He, unlike any of the religious leaders in Israel, was able to cast out demons as well. We also are told, in all four gospels, that Jesus fed a huge crowd of people – an event known as the “Feeding of the 5,000” – but that was only the count of men. There could have been as many as 20,000 people there. On another occasion, there was the “Feeding of the 4,000”, which was a different time and place, but essentially Jesus did the same thing – He created food where there was no food. He created fish and bread out of nothing – something only Elohim could do.
So what happened? Let’s examine this: Jesus didn’t create money, which He could have done. He created food and fed the thousands of poor people who followed Him into the wilderness to be healed and to be taught. In both miracles, there was a lot of food left over – He is our Provider, who pours out His blessings in abundance. He is more than able to deal with any problem we may have.
How did the people react? We’re told that they wanted to make Him king – immediately. That seems like a reasonable reaction – there was no doubt that He was a powerful Guy! This HAD to be the Anointed One – the Messiah, the one who would deliver them from the hated Romans. And there was no time like the present – let’s get at this thing! Let’s drive these uncircumcised Gentile oppressors out NOW!
What was Jesus’ response? He refused to let them do it. Why? Well, a lot of people think that Jesus was just being a humble guy and just kind of demurred: “Aw, shucks, folks! King? Me? Naw! But, gee, thanks for the thought – you are all just too kind…” and so on. That’s not what happened! Jesus, of course, was humble – He was God in human flesh, after all. And He IS the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords – why not go for it then, when He had the people behind Him? First of all, He said that it was not His time. True – He was on a divine timetable. When it some day is the right time for Him to rule, He’ll rule His earthly Kingdom “with a rod of iron” for a thousand years. But, when He came the first time, His kingdom was a spiritual kingdom – “not of this world.” The people couldn’t distinguish between Jesus’ First and Second Coming.
But there’s much more to it than that. The people weren’t interested in a spiritual kingdom; their eyes were only on this world. We can see this because of John, Chapter 6. I’ll have to summarize – if you read it yourself (which you should), you’ll find it’s one of the longest chapters in the Bible! But, essentially, it’s this: Jesus fed all the people who followed Him for healing and for teaching in a “grassy place” with no food. After they tried to make Him king on the spot, He went off to pray – to commune with Abba Father. The disciples took the extra food and took off in a boat to go over to Capernaum, across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ base of operations at the time. When an unexpected storm came up and was threatening to drown them, they saw Jesus, walking on the water, like a ghost passing by. When He entered the boat, He rebuked the waves and the storm – not only did it immediately calm down, but they were suddenly at their destination.
Meanwhile, the “Fed 5,000” woke up and started looking for Jesus – not to worship Him, thank Him, or show their love to Him for their provision, but because it was breakfast time and they were hungry. As quickly as they could, they crossed over the Sea of Galilee, trying to find their powerful Benefactor. When they found Him, they asked Him, first of all, how He had gotten there, since they had seen the disciples leave in a boat and they knew that Jesus was not with them. Their main goal, other than curiosity, though, was this: “Feed us! It’s breakfast time!” Jesus knew what they were looking for – another handout. In fact, they were looking for a LOT more handouts – they wanted to follow Him so they wouldn’t have to work anymore to feed themselves and their families. But Jesus knew that they were looking for another free meal, instead of what they should have been doing: looking for Him for their SPIRITUAL life. They tried every trick to try and get Him to fill their bellies again, including downplaying the incredible miracle they had just seen the day before, by comparing Jesus to Moses. They said “Moses fed the Israelites with manna in the desert; that was 2 million people, for 40 years, every day. And you can’t even do as much as Moses?”
Jesus saw right through these arguments – after all, He’s God; He knows the hearts of men. First He corrected them about Moses: It was Elohim that gave manna in the desert, not Moses. But the key problem these people had was the same problem the Israelites had – they misunderstood what was the central issue – faith.
“Yes, Elohim fed them, but they, like you, were only looking at the physical side. As soon as things got tough, the people of Israel failed to trust the One who was leading them through a trackless desert – not Moses, Yahweh!” Jesus then brought it around to what was really important: who He was and what He had come to do. He didn’t come to feed his followers free food every day; He came with a spiritual message – the real food, Himself. He was what was important – He and His mission. He had come, as God in human flesh, to live a sinless life and die the bloody death of a criminal – the just for the unjust – so that all who believed that, and put their complete trust in Him, could have their sins forgiven by a Righteous God. He talked about them “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” which had nothing to do with the communion ceremony. We are to put our complete trust in Him, so that we can have our sins forgiven, because of what He came to do, what He did do for us.
“Eating His flesh” is metaphoric, or course, but the people tried to understand it literally – and thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism. The crowd misunderstood the message completely, just like a lot of people today misunderstand things Jesus said. (There are many examples).
So – here Jesus, who has the power to feed this large group of followers, refuses to do so. Is He cruel? He HEALED them all – why doesn’t He FEED them all? Why doesn’t He just create money, then, so that they could at least BUY food? Why doesn’t He create supernatural purses that are always full of money? He could do all those things, but He doesn’t.
What does He do? He offers them food that would lead to their eternal salvation – which is profoundly more important than physical food. He DID provide them with physical food and what happened? They wanted MORE. They were not interested in His spiritual wisdom; they just wanted their bellies filled. And Jesus, like a good parent with a demanding, ungrateful child, refused to help them. Yes – He sent them away, with their hungry wives and children, whom He could have fed, but didn’t. They were on their own to find sustenance. He did it because they had missed the big message right in front of them: Himself. He was what was important; His identity as God the Creator in human flesh.
Jesus laid out these basic principles in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5,6, and 7. We’re all familiar with the verse, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Spiritual truth – spiritual pursuits – especially getting to know Jesus as deeply as we can, are infinitely more important than our earthly needs. That’s the central truth in the Luke 10 narrative of Mary and Martha – Jesus commended Mary for sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from Him. Mary was doing something far more important than Martha’s fussing about the housework. It’s interesting that Mary of Bethany was the ONLY follower of Jesus who understood what was going on in the days leading up to the crucifixion – she’s the one who anointed Him for burial.
Jesus also says “Don’t worry about what you should eat and what you should drink. Your heavenly Father, Abba, knows what we all need. And if He provides for the sparrows, why do we not trust Him to provide our daily needs for us?”
Finally, He tells us where the true riches are: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6: 19 – 21) Heavenly riches are the true riches!
So… Jesus says that HE HIMSELF is what it’s all about. Anybody who says something like “Inequality is the root of social evil” doesn’t understand the truth of the gospel. Seek JESUS – as He said: “ Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
And – let’s go to Mark to nail it home as succinctly as it can be – from the very lips of Jesus, in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”