OUR OPINION: Scripture speaks to issues of poverty and wealth

By NEMS Daily Journal

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.
Deuteronomy 24:19-22
People on both sides of political issues frequently invoke scripture, occasionally including those who argue most fervently that religious values should be kept out of the public arena.
Whether the issue is abortion, poverty programs, war or business, most of us manage to find biblical support for our views.
While partisans from many perspectives may be accused of twisting scripture, often the ancient writings really do address multiple priorities within a given issue.
One such example is that of the poor. Judeo-Christian scripture gives frequent and detailed instruction for dealings toward poor people.
Moses’ law mandated to ancient Israel that a means of livelihood (in this case, a millstone) may not be taken as collateral (Deuteronomy 24:6), that a poor laborer must be paid promptly (Deut. 24:15) and that landowners must leave some of each crop for the poor to glean (Deut. 24:19-21).
Other early biblical “poverty programs” included family-based safety nets for those who fall into economic problems (Leviticus 25:25,35), periodic forgiveness of debts (Deuteronomy 15:9) and even restoration of land previously lost for indebtedness (Leviticus 25:10).
Israel’s national mandates cannot always apply directly to other societies such as ours. More universal principles espoused in scripture, however, include generosity toward the poor (Proverbs 14:21, among many references) and justice that keeps the poor from being overpowered by the rich (Deuteronomy 24:17 and 27:19, among many).
Even many who are usually disinclined to quote scripture may find it easy to cite such references as supportive of their efforts on behalf of the poor, whether individual, charitable or governmental. As with most issues, however, the Bible cites responsibilities for all parties.
One is that justice must favor neither the rich nor the poor (Exodus 23:3,6).
And while the 10th Commandment has its own obvious applications to prosperous people, the poor do not get a free pass around it. The command not to covet obliges those asking for assistance to search their hearts as to whether the help they seek is truly a need and not merely a want. The Apostle Paul, who knew both poverty and plenty, admonished, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
Another obligation of the poor, as with anyone else, is to work hard at any opportunities they have: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4).
But diligence isn’t only for one’s own benefit. What happier ending could a story that begins in defeat have than that a once-poor person becomes prosperous and turns from one who is helped to one who helps?