In the Kingdom of God the poor are rich. And the rich are poor. But the poor can also end up remaining trapped in poverty. And often the rich are not successful at becoming poor.
Some have called this the "Upside-Down Kingdom" or one of the paradoxes of God's Kingdom on earth.
“What do I still lack?” the rich young ruler asked Jesus. He had fulfilled the law since childhood and was looking for something more. Although Jesus told him how to find “more” by giving his worldly goods to the poor and following him, the young man wasn’t prepared to have his world turned upside-down and so, he went away sad (Luke 18:18-27).
The poor have a key and peculiar role in the Kingdom of God which is “theirs”, and we lose much when we try to resist this reality. God has “chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him“ (James 2:5 NIV). How do we understand the striking example given by the early apostles who, after a meeting to direct the apostle Paul’s activities, came to the conclusion that the only recommendation needed was that he should “remember the poor”? Why is this a central theme throughout the scriptures?
It seems that the poor in a community or nation carry most heavily the burden associated with whatever areas are not yet under God’s Rule. Proclaiming the truth of the good news of God’s Kingdom Rule in Christ invites the poor to live beneath that Rule today as individuals, families, communities, and nations. Considering our faithfulness to that proclamation and the response called forth may be a good way to gauge the degree to which the Kingdom has come in our midst. Could it be that, on a corporate level, the church’s witness and fruitfulness among the poor is a measure of how the Kingdom of God is advancing in our church and nation? Can we see the results of this dynamic in our communities?
What have been the consequences of materialism, individualism and political correctness?
What are the results of our anti-Kingdom values?
Jesus highlighted the fact that the gospel was being proclaimed among the poor as one of the proofs that he was the Christ of God (Luke 7:18-22). Jesus was referring here to the declaration of God’s true jubilee, the “day of the Lord” which had a central place in his anointing (see Luke 4:18). We know that in the Old Testament this event included the liberation of slaves and the return of family lands to the poor. The proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom of God is the fulfillment of this ancient ritual. This proclamation consists not only of words, but also of actions bringing real liberation to the poor in all areas of their lives. The church’s tendency to limit this liberation to words and to the salvation of individual “souls” is not supported by God’s Word. The proclamation of the redemption of all things in Christ is not optional (Colossians 1:20). We look for peace among neighbours, healing and security as well as work and daily bread for everyone as some of the signs that the Kingdom is moving in.
Jesus made it clear that we would encounter him while ministering to the poor (Matthew 25:31-46) but we need to go deeper in our understanding of this revelation. God is doing tremendous things in our day. The church in many places has experienced a tremendous time of intimacy with God through the ministry of worship in church meetings. We are thankful for this privilege, which he has granted us. Our great challenge is to find balance and not fall behind when the Holy Spirit wants to bring us even deeper into life in the Kingdom of God. We never want to hear the terrible judgement of Amos 5:23-24 (NIV):
”Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
God’s way is that our intimacy with him would always lead us to acts of compassion and that our relationships with the needy would always deepen our intimacy with Jesus.
We desperately need the poor in our lives. Contrary to common thinking, the poor serve as an example to us, and not the other way around. This is another paradox of the Kingdom of God. The poor widow who offered the only coins she had served as an example to the disciples (Mark 12:41-44) and, in the same way, God chooses the poor today to serve as an example to the rich. With them, we learn about the values of the Kingdom of God, generosity, dependency on God, interdependency with our neighbours, submission, humility and so many other priceless lessons which bring growth to us on all levels.
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thought he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor , so that you through his poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9
God has enriched my life in incredible ways as I have lived among those who are poor in this life. Many years ago, Jimmy taught me the importance of asking forgiveness for offences big or small. From John I learned about overwhelming injustice and its effects. I first saw deep reconciliation happening through Robert’s life. Maria showed me what hospitality could really look like. Mauricio taught me about needs that may not be met in this life. From Ana I learn hope, from Deise, faith and from Mirinha, what it means to carry someone in your heart.
Mutuality should always be our standard in our relationships with the poor. We bring something of benefit to them and we receive something that is a benefit to our lives. We find an example of this principle in the story of Elijah’s visit to the home of the widow at Zarephath (see 1Kings 17:8-24). At the beginning of the story of Elijah and the widow, both were hungry. Elijah had received a word from God which allowed him to bring hope and a specific direction to the widow. At the same time, the widow showed herself to be a person of faith and had the primary resources for the miracle God would perform. Without the contribution of them both, there could not have been any provision and both would have continued in their hunger. Those who go to the poor in humility to develop relationships based on mutuality will receive special provision for their own lives and needs.
The poor also can be used to show our weakness and fears, thus promoting dependency on God. We find an example of this in the testimony of the blind man who is healed in John 9:13-34. The simplicity and humility of the youth’s statements incited the powerful. Many times we see God using the humble to expose what is in the hearts of the rich and powerful. For those who are open to God’s dealings, this path leads to life, transparency, growth and freedom. Our response to the poor also shows the state of our hearts. If we flee from identifying with them, as the rich young ruler did, we lose much. The Word of God makes it clear that the one who closes his heart to the needy will not find the love of God dwelling in his heart (1 John 3:17). On an individual level, our reaction to the poor is a manifestation of what is truly in our hearts.
We need to work to understand the concept of prophetic actions.
We are quite familiar with prophetic words or proclamations. These are words that proclaim God's will and bring his direction. Prophetic actions are also inspired by the Holy Spirit and manifest the coming of the Kingdom of God, foreshadow events and show what the kingdom will look like when it comes in its fullness.
In this, we follow Jesus who was known as a "prophet, powerful in deed and word before God and all the people" (Luke 24: 19 note: we have reversed the order here of the terms “deed" and "word" to reflect the original language). His powerful prophetic actions often involved healing, provision, revealing his authority over creation, and even exercising authority over death. The line of prophets of action began with Abel and continues into our day. When Abel took the initiative of offering the first of his herd as a sacrifice to the Lord (Genesis 4:4) his practical action manifested a future reality of God's Kingdom which would be played out both among his people Israel and in the life of Jesus. Abel is affirmed as a prophet in Luke 11:50-51 even though the Bible does not register any words spoken by him.
It seems that the greatest prophetic actions take place in the midst of the poor where dependency on God opens up hearts to see and participate in God’s Kingdom. These actions show that transformation is possible in God, that fatalism is a lie which is broken by the truth that all persons were created by God to bear his image, that God cares about all aspects of our lives, that we were created to exercise dominion on the earth and walk in friendship with God, that the Kingdom of God is coming and that we can participate in it now. These prophetic actions, which proclaim God's will and ways and help people to walk into them, should be exercised thoughtfully, intentionally and strategically so that lies will be broken and communities transformed by the renewing of their collective mindsets.
“The king is dead. Long live the queen.” In times past, this declaration announced the reality of a new monarch’s reign. Our proclamation is similar in nature. We are letting people know that a new Kingdom is in place, that total allegiance is due the new Ruler, and that his “now and not yet” reign brings with it all that we need. In the midst of this process we are likely to know deeper and richer waters than we ever dreamt possible.