Persuading the Poor

My Dear Shepherds,

Do you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men?

It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!

The army of the poor, Les Miserables, march into the streets, singing defiantly under their banner. So stirring! But we leave the theater knowing their song won’t make it true.

One Sabbath, Jesus stood in his hometown synagogue, opened the Isaiah scroll, and in God-given words, declared his identity:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

His neighbors were proud as punch. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” That is, until Jesus made very clear that they were unqualified for his good news because they’d never admit just how poor they were.

Proclaiming good news still poses an occupational hazard for pastors. A congregation might love their preacher’s “gracious words” but refuse to own up to their own poverty. They might call themselves a gospel church but press them too hard about their poverty, and they’ll drag their preacher to the nearest cliff.

As it turns out, the poor aren’t those who don’t have two shekels to rub together.

Take Simon Peter. The first time they met, Jesus miraculously prospered Peter—two boats filled to the gunwales with flopping fish, bringing Peter to his knees as a beggar: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Positioned for good news. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, disciple.

Or the time Jesus recruited Levi, the tax collector, one of the richest poor men in town, leaving the even poorer rich men—the Pharisees—apoplectic. Go figure!

According to Luke (and Matthew) the first thing Jesus taught his disciples was, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Poor is the new rich. To this day, only “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” accept the master’s invitation to the banquet. They’re the only people small enough to pass through the Needle’s-Eye Gate into God’s vast kingdom.

Remember “the woman who had lived a sinful life” who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears? Now there was a person who understood poor! Jesus told the Pharisaical bean counters that her one and only asset was that, having been forgiven much, she loved him much. That one pearl made her the richest woman in town!

Jesus’ poster boy of poverty was that ingrate who disdained his father’s household and squandered every penny of his inheritance till hunger put him on par with pigs. He only “came to his senses” because he had no other options. I’m suspicious of that whole “unworthy” speech, too. Then this holy jackpot of good news for the poor:

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

And that was just the beginning!

In league with the Spirit, pastor-proclaimers initiate and accompany paupers into this counterintuitive economy of God’s kingdom. We persuade people of the advantage of a broken spirit. We stand by the Father, preparing a welcome for the home-bound prodigals. We help our flock remain lowly, continually “good-newsing” them week after week with the God-blessed life.

I wonder if Jesus thinks about that first morning in Nazareth now when he sees his countless kingdom-rich disciples worshipping. I mean, have you heard God’s people sing!

Be ye glad!

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