Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Poor are Closer to God (and a Test for the Rich!)

I believe poor people are closer to the Kingdom of God than most other people. Indeed Jesus said they are the people of the kingdom : Lk.6:20. Why did Jesus say that? And why did Jesus say that He was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor? (not the rich!)

I believe it is because the poor are generally meek, humble, childlike, vulnerable, and marginalized. The poor feel rejected and despised. They are voiceless and fearful. Such people are usually what the Bible describes as “contrite and lowly in spirit”. That makes their hearts the most attractive place for God to dwell! God said He lives in a high and lofty place but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit (Isa.57:15). And Isa.66:1-2 is astounding. God in effect says that He dwells with and His resting place is in, the heart of the humble and contrite and those who tremble at His word!!!

Of course not all poor are humble and contrite. But most poor people are. That’s why the poor are closer to the kingdom. And they are the people of the kingdom in the sense that they (who are humble and contrite) are the kind of people that God counts as His kind of people … along with children, and those who are meek, those who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who mourn, who are peacemakers, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who are persecuted.

When Jesus came, He did not go to the rich and powerful. He went to the poor. He felt comfortable and at home with them. God seeks out those who are contrite and brokenhearted. That is what He is after. Why? I believe it is because they are of like heart, of like spirit to Him. Reflect on this for a moment – the Creator of the universe comes as a man, knowing full well that the world will reject him, and even his own people will reject him, and gets down on his knees to wash the feet of his disciples, including one whom he knows is about to betray him. Isn’t that mind blowing?

When we sing "How Great Thou Art" or "How Great is our God .." what picture do you have in your mind? For most people I think it is of God on His throne with the angels surrounding Him in worship, or it could be the majestic mountains and starry skies. One day I was singing "How Great is Our God .." and God gave me a picture of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples! I sank to my knees in tears and bowed in renewed awe of Jesus. When I shared this, in response someone shared with me that he had a dream in which he was taken up into heaven. As soon as he arrived, he was taken to meet Jesus. The first thing Jesus did was he hugged him and then got down on his knees and washed his feet!! Awesome!! That’s why all the angels worship Him. What kind of God is He? What is His heart like? Our God is a servant.

How can we understand this – that God is a servant? That’s something that can only be understood and appreciated in our hearts. Theological studies and seminaries have their place, but unfortunately most church leaders who graduate from seminary tend to run churches more from an intellectual approach than anything else. So most of Christianity has been centered on being doctrinally correct rather than experiencing God. Being right is paramount. Living the life is secondary. So most of “church” is in meetings, preaching, teaching, evangelism – all to do with textual truth than living truth.

We can attend a Bible study on the subject of joy and go home satisfied after a comprehensive study on the subject, with all our notes on joy, but not really have joy. But that doesn’t seem to bother us that much. It bothers us more if there was a disagreement during the Bible study on the correct way of understanding joy. In the same way, we can have a correct understanding of the subject of love, but we don’t actually go out and love. But it won’t bother us that much. Why is that?

I think that’s because evangelical Christianity arose from the west and was developed in the west. In the west, getting it right and being correct is everything! If you are born in that culture, in that paradigm, and you grow up in that paradigm, it is hard for you to come out of that paradigm and see things from any other perspective. I too was born again into a western Christian paradigm. I became a typical evangelical. Then I went and studied law in England. That made me even worse. I was more concerned about understanding things right than about living right.

But Jesus was not so concerned about people getting their doctrines and beliefs right. Even though they had obviously misinterpreted the Old Testament on the coming of the Messiah, Jesus never corrected the Pharisees on their doctrines or their interpretation of the Old Testament. Instead, He was against their hearts.

Life is not found in the knowledge of the Scriptures. Life is found in Jesus. Jesus told the Pharisees : “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Jn.5:39-40. In effect He said, “You think getting your doctrines right will get you into heaven? Well, you can have all your doctrines right and yet have no life in you.”

I heard someone once put it very well. He said when we die and we are taken to the pearly gates, the angel Gabriel is not going to give us a test on our Biblical knowledge or our doctrinal position to see if we qualify to enter. Instead he is going to put his stethoscope to our hearts and listen to find if there is life in us. “Because he who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son, does not have life; but the wrath of God remains on him.” Jn.3:36.

Someone said this : “The Word did not become a philosophy, theory or a concept to be discussed, debated or pondered. The Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved.”

The strange thing is this. It is very possible to be committed and zealous for God but not know Him personally. Paul said this : “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Rom.10:2. Paul himself knew this - when Jesus appeared to Paul the first time, he asked, ”Who are You Lord?” Acts 9:5.

It is the heart that counts, not what’s in our heads. So poor people may not have correct beliefs, and they may even be trapped in false beliefs, which is why they are in such debilitating situations, but they are closer to the Kingdom than professors of theology who know their Bibles inside out but whose hearts know little of contrition or what it means to be servants. I was very grieved when I heard how evangelical theologians questioned whether Mother Theresa was saved. Some of her beliefs about salvation seemed questionable, but I bet you she was closer to the heart of God than many evangelical leaders of megachurches who doubt if she is now in “heaven” with the Lord.

At the end of the day, it is not material poverty or material riches that is the issue. Those who are materially rich might even be poor in spirit, although that is seldom the case. It is what material poverty or material riches does to our hearts. According to the Bible, material riches are a curse more than anything else, because material riches blinds us to the condition of our hearts, and to God and others. Jesus said how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom. But "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Luke6:20. Want to be spiritually rich? Simple, be materially poor! Give it all away, and your heart will be rich. Hang on to it, and your heart will remain cold and dead.

At the end of the day, Jesus said how much we love God will be evident from how much we love the poor : Matt.25:31-46. Indeed not only does God identify with the poor, the poor are really a test for the rich.


  1. Your post encourages my heart to seek Him more. Thank you!

  2. Thank you. I'm searching, and this was great :)

  3. What specifically does Judaism say about money? I often tell people that Christians believe that there is nobility in poverty (the meek will inherit the earth) but Jews have no such concept and encourage people to have means to take care of their families. This is me spewing out gibberish based on no actual facts. Is this in fact true and if so, what does Jewish law/wisdom say about money?

    Click here for a(n) Orthodox answer by Rabbi Reuven Bulka
    As with almost everything else, the Jewish attitude to money is quite balanced. We are aware of the pitfalls deriving from being obsessed with money. Those who want, never have enough.

    On the other hand, with money one can actualize abundant charity.

    To those who contend that money is the root of all evil, we would counter that it is the attitude to money that is the problem. Those who seize the opportunity for money-related kindness have made wealth a virtue. Those who are miserly with their money are, in the view of our great thinkers, irreligious. That is because one of our basic religious tenets is that everything belongs to God, and those who are miserly behave as if the money is actually theirs. That is a rejection of God.

    It is not only via money that we can be charitable. Our words and deeds, our time and concern, are likewise agents for the good. But money can be of immense help, and the charity opportunities made possible by the judicious and sensitive expenditure of money are enormous.

    Finally, we express our love of God, as articulated in the famous Shema faith affirmation, via our material possessions. We are asked to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our resources (Deuteronomy, 6:5).

    No more need be said.

    Answered by: Rabbi Reuven Bulka

  4. From the Jewish point of view, money is morally neutral – neither inherently good or bad. Like any other instrument, its morality is judged by how we use it. The Torah asserts that God, as creator, is the ultimate owner of everything; yet, Jewish law allows for private property. The Torah has a lot to say about how we use our property to care for ourselves and our community. It also prohibits us from abusing our worldly power.

    According to Jewish law, we should use our property in the service of holiness. In the Biblical passage we read along with the Sh’ma (Deut. 6:4-9) we are commanded to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Traditionally, “all your might” is understood as loving God with our worldly property (see Rashi ad loc). The Mishna asks: “Who is wealthy? The one who is satisfied with his/her portion” (Avot 4:1). From a Jewish perspective, there is nothing inherently wrong with accumulating wealth; but our wealth should be for the purpose of serving God and caring for his creatures, not for self-aggrandizement. Our tradition also cautions against excessive wealth and wasting money that could be better spent to care for those in need.

    Our sages taught that one must earn a living in order to provide for his/her family. The Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) states that parents must raise their children, teach them Torah, help them find a mate, teach them a trade, and also teach them how to swim! In other words, each of us is responsible for giving our children what they need to be self-sufficient in this world. The ideal of Torah is the dignity of work and self-sufficiency.

    Our tradition also emphasizes repeatedly our responsibility to care for the poor and vulnerable in our society. Tithing, gleaning, and compulsory donations to charity were early forms of welfare and taxation. The Book of Deuteronomy (15:8) states that “you must open your hand to the poor person and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.” The rabbis interpreted from this that public charity must provide sufficient to uphold the basic dignity of every person.

    Every person – even a poor person – is obligated to give tzedakah. The Torah’s concept of ma’aser requires us to give at least 10% of our net income to charity. However, one must not give so much as to impoverish his or her family. According to the Talmud (Ketubot 50a) a person should not give more than 20% or else risk becoming poor themselves.

    In sum, the Torah does not idealize self-inflicted poverty or asceticism. Instead, our tradition seeks balance: “Desirable is the study of Torah alongside earning a living (derech eretz)” (Pirkei Avot 2:2).

    Answered by: Rabbi Salomon Gruenwald

  5. Click here for a(n) Reform answer by Rabbi Daniel Plotkin
    Mainstream Judaism, unlike the Catholic Church, has never seen poverty as a desirable or holy condition. In the Talmud, particularly in the tractate called Pikre Avot (often translated as “Ethis of our Fathers”) the Rabbis instruct sages and scholars to always have a way of making a living outside of study of Torah. This may been part, as a response to both the ascetism of early Christians and of certain fringe Jewish groups who practiced poverty as a virtue.

    As the Rabbinate and teaching became professional positions within the Jewish community, Rabbis, in particular were never expected to live in poverty, but they were supported by the communities they served in a manner that often placed them at average in terms of income and lifestyle within their community. That continues to this day, with some senior Rabbis of very large congregations earning incomes that put them in the top 10-20% of the congregation.

    In the days of the Shtetls of Eastern Europe (and even earlier in Western Europe) it was common practice for rich men to have their daughters marry Torah scholars so that the scholar could continue his study without being a burden on the community and would be able to have lots of children, some of whom would continue in scholarship, some of whom would enter business to continue the cycle.

    Unfortunately, in the State of Israel, there are communities who feel their study of Torah entitles them to live on the social welfare programs of the state and even force young people who are not as inclined to such study live in the poverty that comes from having no other skills. There are efforts to change this in Israel, but what is clear is that these communities have strayed far from the very principles that they study on a regular basis. Ultimately our tradition teaches that we are not to make ourselves a burden on the community, but we should only accept tzedekah in that form when we truly need it.

    Answered by: Rabbi Daniel Plotkin

  6. I'm referring to the article you posted and the title is The poor are more closer to G-d . Here I have a problem . Since when did Adonai said that you have to be poor to draw closer to Him ? If you say that a person have sinned against G-d by going after what you Christians called worldly riches and success , then what about the Patriarchs of my people Israel Abraham , Isaac and Jacob (Israel) . Take for example Abraham . He was rich with gold , silver and cattle . Yet G-d never called him a sinner and instead calls him HIS Best friend . King David was also rich . Yet G-d calls him A Man After HIS Own Heart . And there are countless of righteous people in the Scripture that are rich . Even the Messiah you call Jesus was rich . Otherwise He wouldn't be able to own a tunic which the Roman soldiers cast lots for . If Jesus is poor and homeless like you Christian claim , He would be wearing a piece of rags . And nobody would cast lots for a piece of worthless rags . Even your Bible also said that the poor suffer reproach from men including his relatives(Proverbs 19:4,7). So how can you say that it's a blessing ? The whole idea of the so-called blessedness of poverty actually came from the Greeks who teach that man can become a god if they live a life of virtue and which borrowed these ideas from India . Hinduism and Buddhism also teach this . So how can you say that a life of poverty is Biblical ?
    For more proof , click on the links













    If you can compare the Christian teachings on the blessedness of poverty with Hinduism , you'll find that there's lots of similarities . And it's hardly surprising since all pagan ideas including asceticism came from Babylon through Nimrod . And let's put it this way that asceticism is a form of idolatry . S Therefore all I can say that your ideas is idolatry and I would advise you to go and read the 5 Books of Moses Our Great Rabbi whom even your Jesus affirmed (John 5:45-47) .

  7. And one more thing I forgot to tell you . If you are poor , you will not be able to marry and have children since you will not be able to provide for your family and you will be a burden to others . And by the way , the Gnostic preached a higher level of asceticism which includes celibacy and poverty which goes against the Command by The Most High to be fruitful and multiply . So ask yourself this question . Does your statement glorifies the Most High or does it profane HIS Kadosh (Set Apart) NAME ?