by Chaplain Dave Bootsma
The poor are shunned even by their neighbours, but the rich have many friends. It is a sin to despise one’s neighbour, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.
Wealth attracts many friends, but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them. (Proverbs 14:20-21; 19:4)
June 11, 2019 — For most of us, when we think of people who are poor, we tend to limit that to lack of material resources (food, shelter, clothing, etc.). But poverty is more complex than that.
Consider the proverbs above.
Notice how the poor are viewed and treated by the non-poor.
They are “shunned” or avoided; people keeping their distance.
Not simply society in general but by their neighbours in particular; those who live in close proximity and who are supposed to look after or be there for them; people you typically believe you can count on.
They are also “despised”.
People view them with contempt or dislike them simply because they are poor. Kindness is withheld from them.
If that isn’t bad enough, they are also deserted or abandoned not only by their friends but even their very closest friend.
How lonely it can be for the poor?
On the flip side, we see that those with material wealth have lots of friends.
Because “wealth attracts many friends”.
Solomon, the writer of these proverbs, describes what is typical in most communities. The wealthy associate with those who are wealthy and the poor are isolated.
Rarely do we find close friendships between the poor and the rich. And, while the poor may hope to be friends with the wealthy, what wealthy person pursues a relationship with the poor?
Why is this?
“We tend to seek relationships on a cost-benefit basis”, writes Timothy Keller. “With those that are rich we want to be as close friends as possible; the poor we don’t even want living in our neighbourhood. Relationships with poor people don’t benefit us”.
In other words, since the poor cannot move us forward or up the social or corporate ladder, if they don’t enhance our reputation or make life easier for us, why waste time associating with them?
But not only is this the case on a personal level, but also at the societal. “Our social systems tend to quarantine the poor”, observes Keller. “We force them to live all together, so that the poor have no neighbours with the resources and connections to be kind to them. This, of course, only deepens poverty.”
Think about it: If the poor are not welcome in the neighbourhoods of the wealthy and don’t have friends with resources what does that say about the likelihood of them remaining poor?
What are the chances that they will be able to make a better life for themselves?
No wonder that Solomon says it is a “sin” to despise someone’s needy neighbour.
It is immoral; it is wrong; it is evil. According to whom? God of course.
On the other hand, what if the poor had people in their lives and in their social circles with education, skills, wisdom, resources and business, legal and/or financial connections?
What if they were treated with respect and dignity by the wealthy?
What if they were shown kindness?
How much more hopeful their situation would be?
Again, no wonder that Solomon states that the one who is kind to the poor or needy is “blessed”.
By whom? God of course.
On the one hand because in doing so they fulfill their purpose as human beings in loving their neighbour as themselves (the summary of the entire law of God), while on the other it reflects the heart and nature of God himself. God is kind to those in need (which, of course, includes you and me).
Poverty is more complex than it appears. Our community’s poor need us in so many ways. Let’s be careful not to sin by despising, shunning or deserting them.
And let’s not forget that God is with us and blesses us as we reach out to them with respect, compassion, friendship and care.
Dave Bootsma has served as Chaplain at the Upper Room Mission since 2008. Join Dave for Chapel at the Upper Room Mission Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 11:30 a.m. -12 p.m. Wednesday 10 a.m. -10:30 a.m.