A Call to Action
et’s begin with a riddle: The poor have it, the rich need it and if you eat it, you will die. What is it?
While you are thinking about this riddle, the writers of Mosaic want to open your eyes to the troublesome topic of poverty.
Perhaps you are reading this while opening your credit card statements after Christmas. “Yup”, you might be thinking, “sounds like a good topic for today.” Or you have seen some of the latest reports on poverty in Canada: 4.9 million Canadians live in poverty. More than 30 per cent of foodbank users in Canada are under 18 years old. One out of two First Nations children live in poverty. One in eight Canadian families struggle to put food on the table.
Or, if these statistics don’t affect you, perhaps it’s because you opt for a theological understanding of poverty: Matthew 26:11 – You will always have the poor among you; Luke 6:20 – Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. You accept poverty, in a broken world, as a reality. We live by God’s grace and as his stewards.
In this issue of Mosaic, Jonathan Wilson points out that if you are reading this, you likely aren’t poor. You have postal service, so you have some type of housing and shelter. You likely have made a donation to CBM at some point. Or you have internet access, using some type of costly device, either borrowed or owned.
Our goal, in addressing poverty in this forum, is to help you dive deeper into God’s mission – not just for information but for transformation. Not just to ask why, but to explore how. It’s our invitation to you, as the Church, to be part of God’s response.
The great 18th century American Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards, stated in Christian Charity OR The Duty of Charity to the Poor that “the rules of the gospel”, which he considered the pattern of the gospel, “move us to love and help the poor.” The command to give to the poor is an implication of the teaching that all human beings are made in the image of God. Giving to the poor “is especially reasonable, considering our circumstances, under such a dispensation of grace as that of the gospel.”
This is the case in Paul’s letter of 2 Corinthians 8:8-9. (May I suggest you read the entirety of chapters 8 and 9.) It is the time of the Great Famine in Jerusalem. Reminding the church in Corinth of their earlier commitment to partnership (koinonia) with the poor, he invites their financial support (diaconia) to assist the church in Jerusalem.
Paul establishes the principle of mutuality in partnership; a double equalization process, whereby the deficiency of one was met
by the abundance of the other, and vice versa. The Corinthian abundance is their willingness to give to the church in Jerusalem; the deficiency was in not fully grasping the grace of God in Christ made available to them. The Jerusalem abundance was that they were spiritually rich, understanding their blessing in Christ, and their deficiency was brought on by the circumstances of the famine and their material poverty.
The invitation is for sharing in the needs of the poor, bringing relief from the burden of want or famine. The Corinthians should give to the poor in Jerusalem, and in the same way, should the situation ever be reversed, the Jerusalem church should share their possessions with the church in Corinth.
The litmus test of Christian discipleship, in this passage, is whether they could follow Christ’s example. “I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
Throughout my years of service with CBM, I have been immensely blessed by the testimony of local churches who take seriously the call to action and are living it out generously and compassionately. I have witnessed this across our country. But, sadly, I have seen little evidence of the type of radical discipleship that challenges the three-headed idol of our time (consumerism, materialism and individualism). Jonathan Wilson calls it Mammon. Rick Tobias wonders if we have lost the sense of justice.
As you read through the pages of this Mosaic, we invite you to consider how we, as Canadians, are part of a global system that has allowed such disparity and inequality in our world – and, conversely, how we, as a church, can do something about it. Are we doing what we can to address global hunger, homelessness, powerlessness and injustice? Are we living out of compassion and solidarity with the poor?
Oh, and as for the riddle – here is a hint: It can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.