4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.
– Deuteronomy 15:4-6
This is just one piece of a huge study we did the Saturday before last on Redistribution – and all the Bible says about money. (I know, this blog is super late. For what it’s worth, this is still something I think about all the time.)
But how crazy is that? There need be no poor among us. What would it mean if we were to stop reading these parts of the Bible figuratively? God literally set up a system that would forgive everyone of their debt every 7 years. God made a command that the land be given a rest for a full year out of every 7, so that the poor could come and eat freely, and be cared for. God wanted to overcome any generational poverty before it happened – all slaves were to be freed, all land was to be given to it’s original owners. This was to be done on a regular basis, and so many of the Old Testament prophets spoke out against this not being carried out.
In this, he thwarts all greed. In this, he looks out for the poor. In this, he demands we care for our neighbor’s needs because they are a part of us rather than a them that stops our personal achievement.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the stigma that comes with poverty. In addition to being strapped for cash, maybe living in a worse neighborhood, maybe having to go far out of your way to get things most people take for granted – our culture teaches us that these people deserve that. That if they just worked harder, things could be better for them. That they are lesser, and if we can help them, that’d be nice of us, but really, that it’s their own fault for not being smart enough, tough enough, good enough to be where we are.
We don’t see this in God’s plan for our economy. We see, as my friend Lydia put it: institutional grace.
Not once in the Bible is it questioned how the poor got into poverty. Not once is it said that if the same people keep finding them enslaved or in need of help every seven years, that we should abandon our promise to care for them.
They are the people most in need of help, and that’s why God wants us to help. It is easy to make excuses. It is easy to think we deserve what we have. But if we hold onto everything like we hold onto the grace of God – something that is freely given, we might find this grace for each other – and fight for it on both a personal and institutional level.
It’s not something the Israelites did perfectly – in fact, it’s something they failed at pretty consistently. But if I’m going to be following the whole bible, it’s time I at least made it a goal. We saw a lot of cool stuff happening in Baltimore with socially conscious companies doing what they could to redistribute – it’s something that I’m really excited about! It is great to see people caring so deeply about something that the Father so clearly does too!