This is one of the few commands virtually all religious people I know easily – even eagerly – follow.
We just do it our own way.
The Biblical and cultural context and over-riding assumption is that those of us with means should contribute – willingly and without conditions – to those among us who, for whatever reason, are needy.
We are not to judge – or distance ourselves – from those who have little – or cannot pay us back. In fact these are the ones Jesus commands that we – and by extension He – should invite to a banquet (Luke 14:12-14).
We are not even urged (by the Bible, at least) to decide whether the poor are ‘worthy’ of our giving.
If fact if we ‘decide’ that they are not ‘good enough’ we can convince ourselves that giving is not necessary – in fact it would be ‘enabling’ the poor.
Rumors of BMW-driving pan-handlers are common in my neighborhood.
There are many poor people – just not visible in most of our neighborhoods, or our schools, or even our workplaces; and certainly not at our churches, shopping centers or on our TV screens.
But in our daily lives, we do have ‘no poor among us’ – we do our best to exclude, ignore or even ban them when we do see them.
Almost every neighborhood has carefully hidden clusters of ragged and neglected housing for poor people.
Jesus was correct; we don’t want those poor people ‘among us’ – we want them far from us – or at least out of sight.
We want them to work for us, clean up after us, take care of us in our hospitals, serve us fast food, go to war for us, and fill our prisons, but we don’t want to see them.
We don’t want them in our neighborhoods, our schools or our churches.
If we must have poor people, and it appears that we must, we will have them tucked away, deployed or locked up.
They can live under the freeway overpasses that we, in our comfortable cars and busy schedules, fly across.
They can eat the food, long past the expiration dates, that we don’t want, and wear the worn clothes we put on our front porches.
They can have our household clutter and broken appliances, while we get a tax-deduction and a clear conscience.
As long as we can’t see them, we are happy. And we think they should be too.
We wouldn’t want to ‘embarrass’ them, after all.
Most of us are proud of ourselves on this one; the Bible tells us to have ‘no poor among us’ – and we don’t.
And if we could, we would complete the job: There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men. Proverbs 30:13-15.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.