The gospel to the poor

Pulitzer Prize photograph Kevin Carter Sudan

Photo: Kevin Carter/AP

I’m sure I had never seen the above photo before this week. That is to say, I hope I’m not so calloused as to have forgotten such a sight: A lone vulture stalking a starving Sudanese child as she crawls toward a food center more than half a mile away. For the photo famed South-African photographer, Kevin Carter, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography on May 23, 1994 at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library. Carter’s joy, however, was short lived. A mere three months later in the midst of a severe depression Carter killed himself near Johannesburg. His suicide note mentioned “vivid memories…of starving or wounded children” as a factor for his decision. He was 33.

The child survived the situation, but to what end no one knows.

For many years, many evangelicals did not give a second thought about the poor; after all, Jesus had told us the poor would always be with us. What were we supposed to do?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the poor and the responsibility that Christ-followers in the richest nation in all of history have toward them. This morning I went to a familiar passage, Matthew 11, to read these words:

When John heard in prison about the deeds of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.’ (vs. 2-5, ESV)

Almost without delay I saw a connection that heretofore had eluded me. The question asked by John the Baptizer was, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” In other words, “Are you the Messiah?”

Jesus response was to give proof of his Messiahship: people are healed, the dead are raised, the poor hear the gospel.

The poor hear the gospel. The gospel is preached to the poor.

Evidence of Christ’s kingship, evidence of His Messiahship, evidence of His anointed reign is that the gospel is preached to the poor. If an evidence of Christ’s kingship is the taking of the gospel to the poor, should that not be an unqualified proof of who is a Kingdom subject? Shall the King be elevated theoretically without being followed practically?

It might be easy to overlook two clear connections Jesus is making; I have done so for a long, long time. First, there is an obvious reference to Isaiah 61:1, the text of Jesus first synagogue sermon,

The Lord has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.

The second is an obvious allusion to the Minor Prophets, nearly all of whom railed against Israel/Judah for injustice regarding the poor.

That the gospel transcends socio-economic boundaries will get no argument from the most conservative of evangelicals. There is no person too rich nor too poor to need the gospel or to receive it.

What we acknowledge about the gospel’s reach, however, is not the issue. The issue is, What do we do about it?

The clear question is whether followers of Christ are as eager to see converted the smelly street dweller who pushes a Publix cart to church as the cologned stock broker who powers a Porsche to the same location?

The Apostle James was well aware of the tendency of Kingdom subjects to ignore the ways of the King when he wrote:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (vs. 1-9)

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • Robin

    Thanks, this is a good one, Marty! Great words.

  • Mike Parker

    I have had the opportunity to experience of taking the Gospel to both the rich and the poor, and I have to say that there is really no comparison. I live in Howard County, Maryland which has, for the last several years, been named within the top five most affluent counties in America. I will be honest here…this has been one of the toughest assignments of my life. I feel like the prophet Jeremiah who preached all his life without a single convert! I know what hard soil feels like, and it can be very discouraging. Getting these people through the “eye of the needle” is a very tedious process! I have also had the experience of visiting two Third World Countries and experienced the receptiveness of the poor. These people were grasping at hope and looking for an opportunity of encouragement. In my experience, ministry to the “down and out” has been far more rewarding than ministry to the “up and out.”

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  • David Lancaster

    Hi Marty, I came to your site to see how you are utilizing wordpress, but then got caught up in the content. This story in particular (along with the image) is very thought provoking. It reminds me of something that I have wrestled with for some time – why was I afforded the privilege to live better than 95%(or more) of the world. I look at where I fit in on the global wealth chart (URL below), and what amazes me the most is that we (I) find it so easy to complain about the FEW things we don’t have, rather than be thankful for the MANY things we do have. Only when we see an image like this do we momentarily reverse our thought process to realize that but for grace, there goes I.
    Global wealth chart URL:

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