What does it really mean to be ‘poor'?

By Valerie Hillard


When we read the word ‘poor' in Scripture, we tend to think only of those who have little or no money. This is certainly not without good cause.

Throughout Scripture, the poor are contrasted with the rich (Ruth 3:10, Job 34:19 and Mark 12:41-42).

However, when we too stringently equate poverty with lack of money, we miss out on a wealth of possibilities in relating to this large group through Scripture.

In Luke 4:18, Jesus sets out on his mission to the poor.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus is seen with women, children, demoniac, blind people, lame people and other types of unclean people. In essence, he is drawn to the socially poor.

These people lack the human and material supports that often buffer a person against the hard realities of life.

They are often more aware of their spiritual needs. Their social poverty may lead to awareness of their spiritual need. It is the latter to whom God promises the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).

The point is that lack of wealth is only part of what it means to be ‘poor.'

For although one would have to have wealth to be in the upper levels of society; one may also have wealth and be without honor and thus ‘poor' in the eyes of society for example, women, tax collectors and Gentiles (Luke 8:2-3, Luke 9:2-4 and Matthew 15:21-28).

The Book of Acts and Paul's letters illustrate the ways in which the church carried out Jesus' mission to the poor. They continued to heal those who were crippled and blind (Acts 5:12 and Acts 9:36-41).

In doing this, they gave more than money could accomplish (Acts 3:6-9).

What's more, just like Jesus in Matthew 15:21-28, they opened their circle of fellowship to include those outside the Jewish faith (Acts 6) and ultimately they actively pursued the inclusion of the Gentiles into the community of believers (Acts 15:7).

In addition, Paul spent the majority of his writings working out the practicality of Galatians 3:28.

In Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female.

In Paul's time, Jews, free persons and males held all the special status which left the others in a condition of social poverty.

Paul's message was one that included everyone. In Christ one's status does not matter.

Excerpt on "poverty" was taken from page 872 of the Holy Bible, New Century Version (The Everyday Study Bible), Word Bibles, 1996.