It is said that Abraham Lincoln, during the days of the Civil War, was once told that he should take heart because God was on the Union’s side. Lincoln’s response was that he was more concerned with whether or not the Union was on God’s side. The difference is important. In the former God blesses the work of our hands, in the latter we work for that which God will bless… but I digress.
Over the last few centuries it became common place to hear politicians and power players use God as a trump card in justifying their plans. Often, though not always, these people misunderstood or misrepresented the core teachings of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. As frustrating as this was, in recent time the tables have been turned, although with no less misunderstanding or misrepresentation.
Today there seems to be a growing desire to show how forward thinking one’s self is by setting themselves in opposition to the Judeo-Christian scriptures.
Case in point, recently the President of the United States was speaking at a conference at Georgetown University where they were having a dialogue about how to address the issues of poverty. The full transcript can and should be read here. Now I am far from agreeing with everything said but I will leave politics to others, my concern is with one of the early statements made by the president when he remarked that,
“…it’s important when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty for us to guard against cynicism, and not buy the idea that the poor will always be with us and there’s nothing we can do — because there’s a lot we can do.”
This statement seems to be intentionally made to be in direct contradiction to the words of Messiah Yeshua who spoke them to His disciples as recorded in the Gospel account of Matthew 26:6-13. Sadly however, if the president was more committed to knowing the scripture he claims to believe rather than to looking for ways to put American Christians in their place [Consider these examples], he might have realized that this text actually under-girds the bigger argument he claimed to be making.
When Yeshua corrects Judas about the anointing with expensive ointment He tells Judas that the “Poor are always with you”. This is not however the Messiah saying that those who are well off financially should just accept the unchangeable reality of poverty. Rather He is directly quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11, the context of which illuminates what He was actually saying.
In the context of this passage from the Torah, God is telling His People that because tragedy and crisis are a part of living in a fallen world, they must be open handed with their prosperity and share of their abundance with those whose lives take a turn for the worse. This is part and parcel to how God defines a healthy community.
So Yeshua is not condoning wastefulness or callousness, but rather the opposite, He is scolding His disciples for not really caring about the poor in their everyday life.
And that is something we can all relate to as we see time and again politicians and celebrities who leverage the suffering of others for their own ends, be it political or financial or just raw egotism.
So when the president says:
“…that we have been stuck, I think for a long time, in a debate that creates a couple of straw men. The stereotype is that you’ve got folks on the left who just want to pour more money into social programs, and don’t care anything about culture or parenting or family structures, and that’s one stereotype. And then you’ve got cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and — (laughter) — think everybody are moochers. And I think the truth is more complicated.”
He is absolutely correct. The truth of how to deal with poverty is more complicated and we need to get past the straw men arguments… among them, the idea that the Judeo-Christian value system is the historical root of oppression in the West… and find creative ways to deal with poverty – Every day and not just when the cameras are rolling.