He Healed the Sick, But What Did He Do For the Poor?
by Tom Gilson
Jesus healed the sick everywhere he went. He had the power to feed the poor, as we know from the feedings of the 5,000 and the 4,000. Other than those two meals, though, there is no sign that he did anything to directly take care of their needs. “The poor you will always have with you,” he said.
Why did he do one but not the other? Would it have been that much harder for him to solve a few thousand poor people’s problem than it was to heal a few thousand? A miracle is a miracle, after all.
Well, no. Some miracles take more time than others. It’s one thing to straighten a limb; it’s another thing to straighten out a heart. I’m no expert on this, but it seems to me that “healing” the poor takes much deeper and broader work than healing the sick. And it’s work that Jesus did not neglect; in fact, it was very close to the heart of what he accomplished on earth.
Poverty is both an individual and a systemic problem. Barring tragedies like flood, blight, drought, or the like, there’s plenty of food and shelter to go around for everyone. Poverty is therefore mostly a matter of distribution. This, I believe, is uncontroversial. Of course where that statement leads is extremely contentious, for there have been a lot of different and contradictory solutions proposed to the distribution problem. State-managed redistribution was a favorite of the Communists, and to varying lesser degrees, also of Socialists, Progressives, liberals, and so on. More conservative types favor keeping that initiative out of government’s hands, and leaving it to the caring intervention of individuals, churches, and other local initiatives that can give life coaching and help beyond just dollars.
The great danger of state-managed redistribution is that it concentrates great economic power in the hands of a few. It can be argued quite credibly that it amounts to stealing from the rich to give to the poor. And it doesn’t do much to break the character- and skill-based aspects of the poverty cycle.
The great danger of individually and locally managed redistribution is that it won’t happen at all—conservatism can be cover for selfishness—or that it will happen haphazardly.
Both approaches have their negatives, and not just the ones I’ve named here, though they are the major ones in my mind…
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