Can Peace Come to the Hood?
Can the church bring transformative change to communities suffering from the proliferation of poverty and violence? And what does that look like?
There is an age-long debate between conservatives and liberals about how we help the poor. Most agree that there is a responsibility for those well off to help those who are not. However, Progressives conclude that the government's role is to mandate higher taxes to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the homeless. They use Matthew 25:35-46, where Jesus says that the "King" will reward those who cared for the less fortunate or the "least of these" and punish those who have not. They conclude that society must do its part and use that coercive power of government to address the needs of the poor to fulfill the biblical admonition stated in Matthew.
Unfortunately, they have misread the warning and taken it out of context. Matthew chapters 24-25 are more about personal responsibility and faithfulness to the King than coercion to help the poor.
The context is the disciples asking Jesus about the signs of his return and the end of the age beginning in Matthew 24:3. Jesus lists a host of events that must happen first but warns that the son of man will come in power (v 30) and without warning (Vv. 32-41). The key to Chapters 24 and 25 is what Jesus says next in verses 42-44. As stated in earlier verses, the disciples are told to "keep watch" and be "ready" because they do not know when the Lord will return. What follows are parables about being ready for the return of Christ and a call to its readers and hears to be faithful in whatever task God has given them.
The first parable is of a wise and a wicked servant in Matt. 24:45-51. In this string of three, we are provided the lenses by which we are to view the other two. The wise servant does what is required by his master (employer). He is faithful to the task that is given him. He is disciplined enough to stay focused on the task before him. The wicked servant shirks his responsibility abuses the other servants while he associates with people of questionable character. He is undisciplined lacking focus and character. The consequences of the wicked servant's actions incurred judgment while the faithful servant received a promotion. Lack of discipline and moral judgment seals the fate of the wicked servant.
In Matt. 25:1-13, this parable is about ten virgins, five wise and five foolish, who are awaiting the bridegroom to let them into the wedding banquet. The wise virgins brought flasks of oil for their lamps in preparation for the bridegroom, while the foolish virgins did not. The foolish virgins miss the bridegroom as they leave to purchase more oil. In verse 13, Jesus warns again, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
In the parable of the talents Matt 25:14-30, a master goes out of town but leaves three of his servants with various sums of money. He gives them money according to their “ability” or “capacity” for using it to make more (v. 15).
This was not a charity or welfare program. They were each allowed to perform regardless of their capacity and the amount of money invested in their care. They were supposed to produce. Two of the servants doubled their respective amounts. The third buried their talent in the ground.
The one who hid it in the ground was punished, and the money he had was given to the servant with ten talents.
This servant is called "useless" or "unprofitable" in verse 30 as judgment is pronounced on him. His fate is similar to the wicked servant mentioned above (24:51).
In Matt 25:31-46 this section is actually the final judgment resulting from our actions. Our actions are a result of our faithfulness to the Lord (master). In the parables, those who trusted the master were considered wise and faithful to their task.
Hence when Christ returns, he will divide the nations (people) into two groups, the sheep and the goats. He places the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. He then pronounces judgment starting with the sheep. They are allowed to enter into the Kingdom because they have been faithful in attending to the needs of the King. The goats are judged harshly for not attending to the needs of the King and are condemned to eternal punishment (25:46).
The only thing both groups have in common is that they ask a related question: When did we run into you? The response from the King is that every time you helped a stranger or the least of these my brethren, you ministered to me. This is personal responsibility in carrying out the teachings of the sermon on the mount (see Matthew 5-7). These are acts of random kindness motivated by a love for the Savior and a desire to "do unto others…" (Matt 7:12). Look at the "Be Attitudes," and you will find the prescription for personal spiritual growth. Read Matt 7:21-23 and couple it with Matt 25:31-46, and you will see that neither religiosity nor indifference gains favor from God. Only obedience to the teachings of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27) will please God. Matthew 24-25 highlights the need to be ready and demonstrates that readiness is simple faithfulness to the task God has given us, along with random acts of kindness.
These things cannot be legislated. What the gospel writer calls righteousness cannot be mandated or even carried out by the government. Our responsibility is to help the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison. The government can only get out of the way and let private individuals and nonprofit organizations like project hood provide the help people need to become self-sufficient.
So, don’t let progressives fool you into thinking that you’re paying more taxes is somehow fulfilling the need to help the poor. It is an attempt to take more of your money to spend it as they see fit. In all actuality, the more money you pay in taxes, the less you have to give to others. I think that if the government got out of the business of “helping the poor," the poor would be better off. Your direct assistance or contribution to a nonprofit help organization would do more than any tax increase could ever accomplish. So, are you a faithful servant? or a useless and unprofitable one? We are kingdoms on Konflict.
[Editor's note: this commentary is taken from my final thoughts of an interview with pastor Corey Brooks on Kingdoms in Konflict]
[Dr. Eric Wallace is an African American scholar and the cofounder of Freedom’s Journal Institute (FJI), an Illinois-based nonprofit organization addressing contemporary social, political, and religious issues on behalf of African Americans. FJI’s mission is to "advance the Kingdom of God through sociopolitical education and engagement rooted in a Biblical Worldview." FJI vigorously challenges liberal ideology with conservative principles, essential to promote and sustain thriving families. He is also the host of FJI's flagship television program "Kingdoms in Konflict: A Matter of Faith, Race, and Public Policy" found on the NRBtv Network and other media platforms.]
Absolutely! Caring for the needy is a "personal" not "government" responsibility.
To pass that responsibility to government is to miss the "treasure".
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.), Jesus says "Don't lay up treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths, corroded by rust, or stolen by burglars. Instead lay up treasure in heaven where it's safe."
I decided years ago that the "treasure" must be relationships, because we're not taking mammon (material things) to heaven. The "treasure" is uniting our spirits with others. Government has no spirit. So those who tout government to meet the needs of the poor, are not just missing out themselves, but depriving many others of the real "treasure" - getting to personally know others. Why do you think suicide rates have increased during the pandemic, and through increasing reliance on electronic rather than face-to-face personal communication?
Mother Teresa spoke of the "poverty of the West". She was not talking about material, but spiritual poverty. That is the real poverty facing this country today. And inappropriate government attempts to be a "savior" have contributed greatly to this ever increasing poverty.