Poverty is an ever-present injustice that all nations face in today’s world. When Jesus refers to Deuteronomy 15:11, stating “you will always have poor people with you,” (Mark 14:7), he highlights the chronic nature of poverty. His words are not intended to discourage believers from extending help to the needy. Rather, the statement offers a continued call for an economy of care that reflects the Israelite’s principles of redemption and protection for the poor and the vulnerable.
Poverty is an unnecessary injustice, for God created a world with abundant resources to use for sustaining healthy and dignified lives. In a nation such as Canada, which is plentiful in resources, it is especially unacceptable to see poverty persisting. The cause of poverty does not lie in the availability of resources and capital, but in the scarcity of practices such as stewardship and neighbourly love.
The dominant values of our society are generally self-interested values that further the comfort of the individual. Progress and acquiring material possessions are the driving factors in our economy and they influence the way Canada is structured. Our prevailing values don’t always lead us to combat injustices and seek the common good within a community.
From a biblical perspective, it is clear that ending poverty will require the whole of society to make practical changes. Individuals, communities, and government are all responsible for seeking justice for the vulnerable. This biblical notion of seeking justice for the impoverished stems from Jesus’ command: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39).
This commandment requires an unselfish and benevolent lifestyle: for to love God is to extend God’s desires for stewardship of all creation, including humans who are a part of the created order, into every aspect of our lives. Likewise, to love our neighbours is to give up selfish desires and in turn care for the well-being of others. It is very clear that by “neighbours” Jesus is referring not only to those in our immediate communities, but also to the poor and oppressed, the hungry and homeless, the widow and orphan, the stranger, and everyone who suffers injustice.
1 John 3:17 states, “But if a man has enough to live on, and yet when he sees his brother in need shuts up his heart against him, how can it be said that divine love dwells in him?” If we as individuals are truly practising the command to love our neighbours, we are looking out for our neighbours’ welfare. We are ensuring that they are living the life of dignity that they are entitled to as image-bearers of God. We are also making sure they have the resources necessary to carry out their creational task as an image-bearer – to live as a steward of creation in relation to God and to others.
In the book of Matthew when Jesus speaks about his coming Kingdom the righteous ask him, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’” Jesus answers, “‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25: 37-40). Loving and showing compassion to our neighbours expresses our obedience and love for God.
The command to love our neighbours as ourselves does not simply extend to individuals. There must also be societal and political facets to loving one’s neighbour, and this is visible in the form of position paper. Policies must promote a societal structure centered on the biblical call to do justice through love and care for all. Government’s role is to equitably distribute resources in society and to care for the impoverished through creating just societal structures and public policies.
In the Old Testament, gleaning and jubilee laws were set up within society to restore justice to neighbours by providing a means of living and restoration to those who struggled. In other words, loving one’s neighbour consisted of taking part in specific, habitual, and community-wide actions that cared for the well-being of others. Deuteronomy 15:11 lays out the mandate to act out of love: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’”
Our economy today is of course different from that of biblical times. But the principle of loving one’s neighbour is the same. The Israelites in the Old Testament practiced love through granting access to soil and crops. Today we must practice love through granting the impoverished access to knowledge and resources so that they can be empowered and gain freedom from oppression.
As we near the Christmas season, opportunities to practice love for one’s neighbours arise more often. Charities and organizations dedicated to aiding the impoverished become the focal point for giving. The Salvation Army receives 15 to 20% of their annual revenue during the Christmas season. CPJ’s year end appeal is also a way to support the furthering of public justice and gifts of this kind are greatly appreciated. Loving one’s neighbour by providing for their needs, though, should be a recurring practice throughout the year for citizens.
Likewise, government needs to commit to reducing poverty and injustice through policies that are measureable and timely. Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves should be present daily in every aspect of society. It is only through exhibiting love, rather than self-seeking fulfillment, that justice for the impoverished will occur.