Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 15.4-5, 7-11
4 …there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God …

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. 

Matthew 26.11
11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

Reflection: Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor
By John Tillman

Matthew 26.11 is just one phrase of many words of Jesus that have been misquoted, taken out of context, or abused in history. People have used this to imply that poverty is intractable and action against it is ineffectual at best and against God’s will at worst. This false teaching is one of the more damaging ones to spread in the history of the church.

Jesus never implied opposing poverty means opposing God’s sovereignty. Instead, Jesus directly referenced Deuteronomy 15.11, including its command to be openhanded toward the poor.

Deuteronomy makes an extraordinary promise that “there need be no poor people among you” (Deuteronomy 15.4) but follows it up with realism, saying, “There will always be poor people…” (Deuteronomy 15.11)

God proclaims the possibilities of generosity while acknowledging the grim reality of greed. Through following God, we can open our hearts and hands, maintaining idealistic visions and actions without losing sight of ugly realities. Christians can look the darkest realities of poverty in the face and confidently say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” 

“If only you fully obey the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 15.4)

The dream of Deuteronomy 15.4 was fulfilled (for a short time) in the early church. It was said of them, “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4.33-34) These Spirit-filled believers fulfilled Deuteronomy’s proclaimed possibility about the poor.

All systems controlled by humans eventually become corrupted and the Acts 4 church is no exception. Racism slips into the distribution of food and the highest levels of the church leadership must get involved (and get honest) to solve it. Corruption in systems run by humans is inevitable. If the church’s own system faced accusations of inequity, how much more can we expect inequity to be a concern in secular systems? However, these concerns are not a reason that we should abandon our calling in this area. 

At the heart level of each individual and at the highest levels of our churches, denominations, and governments, Christians must acknowledge that the poor are our responsibility and are one way that God will judge how well we are helping his will to be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6.9-10)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me. — Psalm 69.6

 – Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 15 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)

Read more about Spiritual Indicators
God holds his people responsible for the welfare of the poor, the foreigners, the widows, and the orphans.

Read more about He Became Poor
The reasons God gives for his just acts of judgment against Israel and Judah…always include offenses related to oppression of the poor.

Christ, the True Hero

Psalm 101.8
Every morning I will put to silence
   all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
   from the city of the Lord.

Luke 12.48b
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Reflection: Christ, the True Hero
By John Tillman

Superhero origin stories often contain a moment of dedication defining the hero’s identity, mission, and philosophy. The simplest, and perhaps most resonant with truth, is the six-word proverb that guides the moral compass of Peter Parker’s universe: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is a stripped-down, modern rephrase of Luke 12:48.

Superheroes aren’t new. (In terms of culture and Christendom, the 1960s are still new.) Spider-man, Batman, and other heroes are throwbacks in both style and purpose to the tales of flawed, human-like Greco-Roman gods, intended to inspire stoicism and virtue as well as entertain.

Though this lens, we often see biblical figures as superheroes. In that vein, Psalm 101 (from yesterday’s readings) reads as if it is David’s superhero oath.

Charles Spurgeon called this Psalm a, “Psalm of Pious Resolutions.” Some scholars, including Spurgeon, believe this Psalm may have been written by David just prior to or just after being made the king of Israel.

Our cultural “superhero” lens can cause us to see ourselves as the “hero” in biblical accounts. However, imagining that God might use us to defeat a giant as David did isn’t much more life-changing than imagining that we might be able to lift a bus or fly through the air. It’s just moralism dressed in a super-suit.

The deeper truth of Spider-man’s proverb is that the powerful are seldom responsible. Most of the villains in Spidey’s universe are men or women with great power, who start as Peter’s friends and turn to evil. Even Peter fails to live up to his own beliefs.

We cannot live up to oaths such as Psalm 101. Neither could David. David would eventually bring corruption, rape, murder, and the ravages of civil war to the city which in this Psalm he pledges to protect.

It is not that we cannot be used by God in miraculous (or super) ways. Rather that, as Christians, it is more important that we realize that we need a hero than that we pledge to be one. It is Christ, the Son of David, who ultimately will fulfill David’s pledge in this Psalm.

When we pray prayers like this Psalm, we are praying that Christ, the true hero, will fulfill these actions in us. We are not the saviors, but the ones in need of saving. It is Christ, not us, who is the hero of our cities and our world.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Your strengthen me more and more; you enfold me and comfort me. — Psalm 71.21

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 15 (Listen – 3:20) 
Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45) 

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Read more about Who is this King of Glory?
May we let go of our heroic versions of kings and watch the lamb of God, ride his borrowed donkey, straight to his borrowed tomb.

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