Whenever I engage with Scripture, I cannot help but notice that God always chooses a side— and that side is always with the marginalized and oppressed. That side is with the poor.
BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE POOR?
As an advocate for those living on the margins, I’ve learned that we need a better understanding of one another and the terminology we use when it comes to people’s lives. “Poor” can be expressed in a multitude of ways: needy, lowly, meek, afflicted or humble.
But the word “poor” does not exist in a vacuum. To be poor means that someone must be rich. There must be a power dynamic present to stretch and separate populations from one another, thereby creating those who have power and those who are oppressed by power. God calls for every person to live into the fullness and wholeness of God’s good creation. To be poor is to be denied full personhood—the person God created you to be in the fullness of imago dei (the image of God).
That’s why God chooses a side. God created us, along with a wealth of abundance. Yet the powers of this world would scare us into scarcity, encouraging those in power to hoard wealth and privilege, creating dire need for those on the margins. As followers of God, our call is to side with the poor.
Beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures, God creates prosperity out of the void. God makes assurances to a mere shepherd and his wife, promising them an unfathomable lineage. God creates something out of nothing for banished single mothers, weary prophets, poor widows and starving children. God’s prophets also side with the poor:
What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor, says the Lord God of hosts (Isaiah 3:15).
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy… (Amos 4:1a).
Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths (Micah 6:12).
I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor (Psalm 140:12).
In the person of Jesus Christ, God most certainly chooses to side with the poor—not just in the extreme vulnerability of a newborn child, but also in the vulnerability of Mary and Joseph’s situation, bringing Jesus into the world in a manger, surrounded by the grit of earth, animals and their byproducts.
Jesus, a brown-skinned Palestinian Jewish man, grew up living under the power of the Roman Empire—an empire of scarcity. The Roman Empire robbed and hoarded wealth from its conquered lands through multiple forms of oppression. That God shows up in such a human form—born under the occupation of empire, in the starkness of a manger, outside the comforts of monetary wealth and worldly royalty—shows that God does indeed choose a side.
Much of Jesus’ ministry, as recorded in the Gospels, deals with the disparity between the rich and the poor. Jesus spoke frequently about wealth, challenging all of us with access to it. When Jesus sums up his call by reading from Isaiah, he focuses on the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Over and over I have read this passage. I have preached sermons on it. Yet this text took on an entirely new life when I heard it spoken aloud by Pastor Imad Haddad at the School of Hope in Ramallah, Palestine. I was sitting in the land that Jesus called home, a land still under occupation nearly 2,000 years later. Suddenly how I interpreted wealth and poverty as a follower of Jesus changed. Pastor Haddad said that although most members of his congregation were living as refugees, they had the privilege of carrying hope in the city.
As followers of a crucified and resurrected Christ, we are actually wealthy in ways we could never imagine. We are called to respond to a radical God who came in flesh and bone to love us. We are called into a wealth of which we could never dream, and we are called to give such wealth to those around us, as it knows no scarcity.
The Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. She lives a hyphenated life as a secondgeneration Indian-American woman. Tuhina loves all sorts of stories and believes narratives are integral to building relationships.
This article is excerpted from the April 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
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