Social media and religion don’t always mix. It can be particularly frustrating for people of faith to come across ridiculous memes that take scripture or theology out of context, and present it as dogma.
For example, one meme involving comedian Stephen Colbert goes like this: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
“Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”
To the surprise of nobody, Colbert’s statement completely ignores the reality of just how much is done for the poor and needy by Christians in this country.
There are numerous passages in the Bible that speak directly to Christians helping those in need.
Deuteronomy 15:7-9 says, “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.”
Psalm 41:1 says, “Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” Not only is helping the poor a good thing, but this verse explicitly says the Lord will assist those who offer help when they themselves are in need.
Luke 6:38 adds to this concept, and in fact, says God will give back to those who give of themselves. The text is broad, in that it speaks to giving of oneself in all respects, not just to the poor. Yet in context, the inference does not change.
“Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over — will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
However, it is Matthew 19 that takes the matter up directly with Jesus. It tells the story of a rich man who asks Jesus how he may enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells him to “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Yet the man had great wealth and “was saddened by these words and went away in sorrow.” He couldn’t give up all his wealth, despite the promise of the rewards to come.
Some may take issue with a literal interpretation of the text. Giving up all of one’s possessions is not practical in modern society, lest one end up just as poor.
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What Jesus is communicating is that wealth is ultimately of no value — that one could give up everything and give it to the poor — because the Kingdom of God has infinite value.
One need not give up everything to help the poor. However, Christians do help the poor, as do those who are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on. We do help the poor.
The extent to which this nation helps the poor should, in fact, embarrass people like Colbert. The National Philanthropic Trust says that Americans gave $373 billion to charity in 2015, of which $268 billion was contributed by individuals. Corporations gave $18.5 billion, and $57 billion came from foundations.
Think about that — $268 billion in gifts from individuals in this country alone, or about $3,000 per person. Over 98 percent of wealthy individuals contributed as well, so perhaps those calling for higher taxes on “the rich” should think what that might do to charitable giving.
Thirty-two percent of charity goes to religious institutions, of which large amounts are subsequently delivered to the poor. Twelve percent goes to human services, 8 percent to health, 7 percent for public-society benefit. In fact, the most popular charitable cause for all households was for basic social services.
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Colbert may be shocked to learn that, according to Connected To Give (a consortium of charities), 65 percent of religious individuals give to charity. Less than half of those who didn’t attend faith services gave at all. Perhaps Colbert should also criticize those in his own ideological backyard. For years, Republicans have not only repeatedly given far more to charity than Democrats — they are the most generous in the world.
Sorry, Colbert, but America does serve the needy without condition. Many people don’t admit it, though, and that’s because Jesus also teaches that doing so is prideful. Maybe Colbert should consider not issuing press releases every time he makes a gift.