Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God has this to say about the deceased king Josiah: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” (Jeremiah 22:16)
On a few other occasions in scripture such tight associations are made between caring for the poor and knowing God. Two proverbs make these connections in similar plain terms. We read, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31), and “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7). In the New Testament James puts it bluntly: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Of course, the scripture reiterates over and over the need to care for the rights of the poor. But what does it mean that knowledge of God and thoughts for the rights of the needy are so intertwined? Must we care for the poor prior to knowing God?
I offer a few of many possible answers. As those who have been saved by the rich mercies of God when we were broken and wrecked by sin, to show contempt toward or ignore the poor reveals we little understand our plight without Jesus. Moreover, when we know God and the grace of Christ, we learn to embrace their regular provision and identification with the poor. Without such movement towards those materially, emotionally, relationally, and psychologically impoverished, we reflect little movement in following the will of God. Let us pray, “Father of the broken, heal what has been destroyed, find what is lost; and do this through us today. Amen.”