IT PAYS TO BE POOR
The phrase ‘it pays to be poor’ sounds a bit contradictory. And at first glance it is. Many of Jesus’ teachings seemed to be contradictory, at least to the world’s view. How often did He tell His followers to do the exact opposite of what they would want to (or even have the right to do)? When someone hurts you, you hurt them back, right? When someone steals from you, you get it back and make sure they pay for what they did. But Jesus told his followers to do the opposite. He said to love your enemies and pray for them. He said, if someone steals from you, give them more stuff. This all seems upside down to our way of thinking. So by now you may be thinking, “What does all this have to do with it paying to be poor?”
One day when Jesus had just chosen the twelve men that were to be his closest followers for the next three and a half years, a big crowd of people that wanted to hear Him speak and to see if He would heal them of their physical illnesses and also of the their mental illnesses (for you bible scholars playing along at home, this is found in the sixth chapter of Luke…). Now, just moments after Jesus had picked his “cabinet” and lots of people in this crowd were getting miraculously healed, Jesus simply stopped, turned His gaze toward his disciples and began to speak to them. What He spoke was quite short and to the point, but has since been quoted by millions of people, and even non-Christians are often familiar with this short speech. I won’t go through the entire speech, but I want to focus on the very first thing He said: “God blesses you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” He was telling them that because they were poor, the kingdom of God would be given to them. (Btw, we know they were poor because they were gathering heads of grain to eat that were left behind in the fields after the harvest. That is one of the things poor people of that day did for food.)
So we have twelve poor men that have been given the kingdom of God. What does that even mean? Well, one thing it means is that they were going to be given the supernatural ability to do many of the healings and miracles that Jesus did. When you think about it, that’s a pretty good trade off. Would you rather win a huge lottery or have access to tap into the miraculous healing power of God? I’m sure that at the time Jesus said these things, his disciples really didn’t have a clue what an awesome thing they had just been told.
Fast forward three and a half years. Jesus, their leader, has been killed, came back to life, appeared to over 500 people and then literally floated up into the sky into heaven. Now all the things Jesus said to his disciples was starting to make sense. Now here is the fun part, the pay off. Two of Jesus’ disciples were walking along, doing their normal routine, minding their own business (still poor, by the way), when they hear a man yelling at them. This man, as it turns out, is cripple and can’t walk. He was a panhandler. He was yelling at them to get their attention so they would give him a little bit of money, but he picked the wrong two guys. These guys didn’t have any money, but he didn’t know that. The two disciples, stopped and fixed their gaze on him (does that sound familiar from the story about Jesus I just told?). This crippled panhandler looked up at them expecting to get money. When he did, the two men said to him, “We’re poor and don’t have any money.” I’m sure the man was irritated and frustrated with them for wasting his time. After all, he had probably missed a couple of big donations because of these two jerks! But then, the two men did something totally unexpected. They explained to the man that they had no money because they were poor, but that BECAUSE they were poor, they had something even better than money to share with him. Can’t you just imagine the confused look on the crippled panhandler’s face at that point?
So what was it they had to offer him? Remember what Jesus had said to them years earlier? He told them that the poor (including them) would be given the kingdom of God and have access to the God’s miraculous healing power. And that is exactly what they shared with this poor, wheelchair-bound panhandler; healing. The one disciple (Peter) said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” Then he grabbed the man by the hand and pulled him up. Immediately the man’s feet and ankles became strong and he was able to walk. As a matter of fact, he not only stood up and walked, he ran and jumped and ran and jumped and then ran and jumped some more! This was the first time this man was able to walk, run and jump in years (or possibly his whole life). The newly healed man ran around praising God and telling everyone what had happened. Then he clung to his two new best friends.
When everyone saw what had happened they were amazed. I love the way the two disciples responded to the people’s amazement… They said, “Why are you so amazed? This is all possible because of Jesus, the man you failed to recognize as the son of God.You weren’t amazed while He healed all those people while He was alive, so why are you so amazed now?” “It is on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.”
That’s a great story with a happy ending, but how would it have been different if those two disciples would have had a lot of money? Would they have done like everyone else and just given the man some money, a monetary donation? I think they probably would have. And then what? The man’s life would have remained the same as it had always been, panhandling every day to get enough money to eat for that day. He never would have gotten to experience the joy of walking, running and jumping.
On the flip side, what if the crippled man came from a wealthy family? He probably would’ve had the money to go to good doctors and to buy a nice wheelchair and wouldn’t have been sitting out there panhandling when the two disciples came by. He would have remained crippled for his whole life.
Often we tend to rely on what we have. If we have money, we rely on that. If we have good healthcare, we rely on that. Sometimes it is only when we don’t have those things to rely on that we finally get smart and rely on God. I find it interesting that very few people get healed in churches, or by Christ-followers in America, but it happens all the time in small, very poor third-world countries. I wonder why…?
So I guess it really does pay to be poor.