Two thousand one hundred! Not a date but a number. Bono, the lead singer of rock band U2, known for his anti-poverty campaigns, notes that this is how many mentions of poverty there are in the Scriptures: “That’s a lot of airtime.”1 In the introduction to the Poverty and Justice Bible,2 the Bible Society adds, “A concern for the poor and an emphasis on just and fair behaviour flows through the Bible like a river. It underpins the laws of the Old Testament and resounds through the words of the prophets; it forms a core part of all that Jesus said and did and shapes the activities of those who followed him.”
Hearts and minds
Many of the world’s current problems of inequality and poverty have their origins in a loss of empathy. Author and psychologist Daniel Goleman observed, “When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action.”
The justice connection
When the Bible talks about “the poor,” it’s not only referring to those who are destitute but also the downtrodden, oppressed, defenseless, and unrepresented. There is a clear connection in its pages between poverty and injustice, while justice is linked to honesty and fairness.
The Bible offers practical examples, such as giving a fair wage to employees3 and sharing part of our income.4 Jesus also suggested making friends with those who are less fortunate than ourselves.5
What can I do?
Even with limited resources, there are always ways to make a difference. We can share our time, we can be fair and honest at work, we can speak up for those who have no voice of their own.
Christian hope … enables us to act humbly and patiently, tackling visible injustices in the world around us without needing to be assured that our skill and our effort will somehow rid the world of injustice altogether. Christian hope, after all, does not need to see what it hopes for (Hebrews 11:1). … Rather, it simply requires us to trust that even the most outwardly insignificant of faithful actions—the cup of cold water given to the child, the widow’s mite offered at the temple, the act of hospitality shown to the stranger, none of which has any overall strategic socio-political significance so far as we can now see—will nevertheless be made to contribute in some significant way to the construction of God’s kingdom by the action of God’s creative and sovereign grace.—Craig M. Gay
1. Bono, On the Move, 2006
2. See http://www.povertyandjusticebible.org/.
3. See Deuteronomy 24:14–15.
4. See Leviticus 23:22.
5. See Luke 14:12–14.