A few years back, around AD 330, there was this guy named Julian. Julian just happened to be the Emperor of the entire Roman Empire. His grandfather, Constantine was the first emperor to convert to Christianity, thus making it the official religion of Rome. Julian came along two generations later and wanted to “re-paganize” Rome, taking it back to the days before Jesus messed things up. Julian, also known as Julian the Apostate, preferred the orgies, debauchery, and violence of the good old days.
He set out to stamp out Christianity but he ran into a problem. Christian charity. Julian groused, “These impious Galileans (Christians) feed not only their own poor but ours as well.” Generous care for the poor was a distinguishing mark of early Christians. It not only attested to the reality of their faith, it also blessed the communities in which they lived. Julian’s efforts to turn back Christianity failed because people saw the beauty of Christ in the charity of early Christians. Like Tabitha, in the book of Acts, they had a legacy of good works and care for the poor.
I like the way one commentary defined “the poor.” It noted that the Biblical category of poor includes individuals and groups who are marginalized, people who lack both financial resources and helpful social connections. It includes people who have physical weaknesses, those who are isolated and powerless. In today’s context it might also include the undocumented, the mentally ill, the addicted, the under-educated, and others trapped in systemic poverty. Systemic poverty is way of referring to people who live in a world where everything around them is broken; people who without the help of others can’t just pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
We certainly see an emphasis on caring for the poor in the New Testament, but centuries later it was still central to the understanding of what Christianity is.
There was Basil the Great (330-379 AD) who wrote:
Fling open your doors; give your wealth free passage everywhere! As a great river flows by a thousand channels through fertile country, so let your wealth run through many conduits to the homes of the poor. Wells that are drawn from flow better; left unused they go foul…Money kept standing idle is worthless: but moving and changing hands it benefits the community and brings increase…. If everyone took for himself enough to meet his immediate needs and released the rest for those in need of it, there would be no rich and poor.
St. John Chrysostom added:
God generously gives all things that are much more necessary than money, such as air, water, fire, sun – all such things. All these things are to be distributed equally to all. “Mine” and “thine” – these chilling words have introduced numerous wars – they should be eliminated from the church.
About 50 years later, St, Augustine of Hippo wrote:
The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. When you possess superfluity, you possess what belongs to others. God gives the world to the poor as well as to the rich. Blessed are those who make room for the Lord [by releasing our grip on our own possessions on order to care for the poor.]
It’s interesting to see that early church fathers addressed the need to generously care for the poor.
It’s more interesting to see how Christ spoke of the need for Christian charity. His words, recorded in Matthew 25 leave little wiggle room. His sheep care for the poor. Goats don’t.
Jesus will look to those who have believed in him and accepted his charge to care for the poor and say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
Then he will look to those who have turned a cold shoulder to the poor and say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Solomon, a man of great wealth, also addressed the need for charity and justice.
The righteous care about justice for the poor,
But the wicked have no such concern. Proverbs 29:7
Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses. Proverbs 28: 27
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. Proverbs 22:9
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Proverbs 11:25
The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. Proverbs 22:9
Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered. Proverbs 21:13
Don’t be a goat. Care about justice.
Don’t be a pagan. Care for the poor.
At Central Christian Church we are committed to addressing issues of justice and standing with those in need. Jesus didn't put us in Springfield so that we could worship comfortably in a beautiful sanctuary. He put us in springfield so that give our most vulnerable neighbors a taste of heaven and a relationship with Jesus. Join us for worship at 10:30 Sunday Mornings. Join us in community service the rest of the week.
"This blog is my way of connecting with people at Central and beyond to encourage them to make their space in the world more like Heaven."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog reflect my thoughts and opinions as an individual, not the formal positions of our church. Central includes people with a wide range of opinions on important issues like those addressed in my posts. It is also a place where we can discuss these issues with civility and grace.