Every community of faith we have ever worked with knows, without a doubt, THAT the Bible calls us to respond to poverty, but very few of them have much clarity on what it says about HOW.
Let me explain.
The Good Samaritanization of Poverty Alleviation
I never would have imagined that the Good Samaritan story would cause problems. It’s one of Jesus’ most powerful and famous parables, and it brilliantly answers the question the lawyer asks: who is my neighbor? Jesus succinctly reminds us that being a neighbor isn’t just about shared ethnicity, geography, or religious beliefs. It’s ultimately about love in action.
Action. That’s where the Good Samaritan story has gotten a bit tricky. Over time, I’ve noticed “the good samaritanization” in poverty alleviation work. In the Good Samaritan story, a man is attacked on the road and left to die. He’s been stripped of his resources like money and clothes. He’s badly wounded, probably unconscious. He’s on a dangerous road traveling, far from people who would recognize him. He is, quite literally, helpless.
In such dire, urgent circumstances, the Samaritan’s actions are the right ones. The generous, free provision of one-way resources is appropriate in a crisis. Countless organizations, with imaginations sparked by the sacrificial generosity of the Good Samaritan, do the crucial work of responding to emergencies with life-saving interventions. Certainly they have followed the right role model.
Community Development with Neighbors Looks Different
Here in Historic South Atlanta, and in most of our clients’ neighborhoods, the situation is radically different. Our neighbors are not helpless or unconscious. While many have been systematically cut off from certain resources, they are not without strengths and gifts of their own. It’s critical to see these strengths and to follow the neighbors’ lead with those gifts. Community Development practitioners need a different approach than the Good Samaritan’s if they want to love their neighbors with the same love-in-action, life-giving impact.
The truth is that many of us enter into cities and neighborhoods that look nothing like what we see in the Good Samaritan story. If we only look at narratives like the Good Samaritan, we’ll end up over-emphasizing interpersonal generosity and the actions of individuals to address poverty. We end up trying to be saviors when people don’t need saving. We will miss the opportunity to shape systems that cultivate dignity and Shalom.
We are so proud of people of faith who recognize that the Bible says we must care about poverty. What many of us don’t know is that the Bible has a lot to say about how we address poverty. The Bible has a lot to say about what poverty looks like and where it comes from, even if it doesn’t offer a succinct definition of poverty that can be applied in all circumstances. Perhaps that is part of its wisdom; poverty isn’t a monolith, and its complexities defy one definition. Best of all, the Bible contains a vision of society-wide economic and legal systems that create flourishing.
This is why we have created a Course called The Bible and Poverty.
The Bible and Poverty is an 8-part series that dives into what the Scriptures have to say to us as Change-Makers. We’ll offer you frameworks that equip you to see new insights in the Scriptures if we want to deal with systemic inequality. We’ll look at how to examine poverty and its causes in a healthy way.
After we have these core concepts, we spend the bulk of our time together delving into the Bible itself. Half of these modules will focus on the Hebrew Scriptures, from the Pentateuch to Wisdom Literature and the Prophets. From there, we’ll move into the New Testament, paying close attention to how Jesus himself moves through the world.
If we want the Bible to not only inspire our action but to inform it as well, we need to understand the full breadth of what it has to say about poverty. I hope you will join me, and our amazing facilitator Dr. Ryan Bonfiglio, as we take this next step. Let’s equip ourselves with the Word as we co-labor for Shalom to our neighborhoods and cities.