Friday, 9 November 2007

Proverbs on the poor

It is very striking to read what the book of Proverbs says about the 'poor'.

1. The situation of the poor

The poor have no protection (Prov 22:7, 28;15, 10:15 "A rich man’s wealth is his strong city;the poverty of the poor is their ruin"). In other words a significant element of poverty is powerlessness and marginalization. Money is power, influence and control and thus one of the major incentives behind getting as much as possible. The poor lack this and so are defenceless in the face of oppressive social control, recession and mistreatment. The poor don’t have a chance because of injustice (Prov 13;23 "The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food,but it is swept away through injustice.") Poverty is cyclical and self-reinforcing as one is laid out a victim of social injustices. It is essentially middle class to think you have got to where you are because of your own efforts and work and deserve it all. The poor have no friends and no-one cares (Prov 19:4, 14:20 "The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends."). They lack social connections and influence. They have very little that anyone wants in terms of buying capital or skills. In fact, the main friends of the poor are the loan companies.

2. God's identification with the poor

Here we have the famous proverb that to lend to poor is to lend to God (Prov 14:31, 17:5, 19:17). How we treat the poor indicates how we think about God (cf. parable of the sheep and goats). Generosity to the poor and marginalized is an absolute sign of righteousness and a massive spiritual health indicator. Judgment comes on those who fail to help poor (Prov 21:13 "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered." ). The prosperity and success of my life may well depends upon the degree to which I give and have compassion on those who are marginalized around me ("Whoever gives to the poor will not want,but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. Prov 28:27). Finally, the wise man will understand all of this without needing to be convinced of it (Prov 29:7 A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.) What are the rights of the poor? They are the rights God in his mercy has given them to our generosity and kindness. How about we start here?