Ask a liberal their favorite Bible verse and most of the time you will get one of the ones about caring for the poor, and there are a lot of such verses. I do not dispute nor disagree with them. Yet there is always a, “But…,” that it seems like I get cut off before I can deliver. The Old Testament spends massive amounts of time establishing and protecting private property. Clearly the Biblical view of caring for the poor is a matter of charity, not compulsion. It is a matter of sharing out of an open and loving heart, not taking for redistribution.
Most Christians are aware that Jesus said He came, “not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it,” as we so often hear quoted when someone seeks leniency in the application of some moral prohibition. And yet you never hear such things when it comes to the application of the moral mandates like feeding the poor or caring for the elderly and widows. Jesus came to change our hearts such that obeying the moral prohibitions would be a matter of expressing our nature, and so with the mandates. I am always struck about by how much energy we put into morality when we should be focusing our energy on allowing Jesus to alter our nature such that morality requires no effort. How do we do that?
I think one answer lies in the liberal’s least favorite Bible verse, “For you always have the poor with you…,” But we really should consider the verse in context:
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
In a nutshell, Jesus rebukes the disciples for worrying about the poor and that particular servants morality instead of focusing on Him. And therein lies the answer to our question – we need to focus on Jesus.
That’s not a very practical answer, unlike for the disciples Jesus rebuked, He is not physically sitting in the room with us. Most Evangelicals, if you try and get practical about this, will start talking about “spiritual disciplines.” (you know – quiet time, fasting…) These are good things, and I do think everyone should read the book I just linked, but (yeah there always is one) I have found that it is easy to become as dogmatic about these disciplines as about the moral prohibitions and mandates. Remember, Jesus is working to change our actual fundamental nature and there is more to us than just the physical and behavioral. We are in God’s image, and God is clearly much more than just the physical.
A work often read and rarely heeded is “The Practice of the Presence of God,” by Brother Lawrence. In this book our simple monk friend advises us to think about God when engaged in the mundane and the menial. Brother Lawrence’s life is filled with the menial, he washes the dishes and digs in the garden most of the time. Our modernity causes us to avoid the menial like the plague, yet I cannot help but reflect that perhaps a bit of the menial in our lives would be a way of making room for God, and focusing on Him. The very thoughtless nature of the task makes room in our thoughts for the Almighty.
But it’s Sunday morning and we are about to go to church. I think this morning that instead of focusing on how beautiful the church is, or how wonderful the music makes me feel or how reasonable and wise are the words of the preacher, I will focus on the Lord that structure, music and preacher are intended to honor. When I see the beauty of the church, I will look for God’s beauty. As I listen to the music, or sing it, I will focus on He it is offered to rather than the music itself. I will not seek wisdom from the preacher, but instead look for the God that provided him, or her, that wisdom. What better place to practice God’s presence than in church.