Getting at the Root of Poverty

poverty
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My wife and I have a wonderful garden in our side yard and a number of flower beds around the house. They are beautiful. We have to work diligently if we want to keep them that way.

You see, like most gardeners, we have this little problem.

Every time we turn around there are weeds trying to edge out our flowers and veggies.

Now, we could just grab them and pull up what will come up and pretty quickly the beds would look beautiful again, but what we leave behind, the root, would surely begin to grow again recreating the problem.

Any gardener will tell you, the trick is to get at the root of the problem.

So, if there is enough for everyone in this world, but not everyone has enough, and Jesus tells us to do something about it, we really need to understand what the root of the problem is so that we put an end to it.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a voice crying out against racism and classism. Those were the battles of his time.

But, when you look at Dr. King’s theology, you see a larger picture emerging.

He was interested in issues of justice. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

Justice seeks to insure that people are not hindered in perusing basic human needs. Biblical justice insists we are all created equally in the image of God, and that we are all to be given equal ground for living into the likeness of God created uniquely in each of us. Anything that prevents us from lovingly perusing equality and justice for all people is not only not of God, it is counter to God’s will.

Dr. King was a voice that cried out on behalf of millions of people who were being prevented from living life as fully as God intended – the same people who still cry out for justice today. Like John the Baptist who announced what the ministry of Jesus would be about, Dr. King proclaimed what the lives of Christians should be about.

For John this meant, that the rich should share their wealth of food and closets of clothing with those in need (Luke 3:11). “The mountains and the hills will be made low and every valley shall be lifted up.” It meant greed must take a back seat to compassion. It meant the power structures of the world, which were based on greed and the love of money, must come a tumbling down. In a world where the powerful succeed at the expense of everyone else, the message John proclaimed, the Truth Jesus taught, the beliefs Dr. King echoed, are still demanding nothing less than a social revolution.

In the U.S., Dr. King saw social, corporate and political systems that were growing in ways that caused divisions much more than they created equality.

Hopefully, you’re not surprised.

Social and economic systems designed by the powerful, tend to insure that they remain powerful. Through unfair wages and benefits, unconquerable paperwork, uncalled for restrictions, unwarranted requirements, unchecked powers, or unjustifiable expenses, these systems place unnecessary mountains in front of people who are only trying to meet their basic human needs.

In limiting people’s ability to meet their basic human needs, America’s current system actually perpetuates the problem rather than solving it.

The laws that govern our nation, policies claiming to make the American Dream accessible to everyone and even programs intended to help people in crisis have become stumbling blocks for the very people who need it most: those who don’t have access to resources, influence or upward mobility.

If the folks Jesus would call the “least of these” ever hope to overcome poverty, they must face insurmountable bureaucratic mountains that are actually allowed access to the system that’s supposed to ease their burdens. Those bureaucratic mountains keep the poor “in their place.” They actually deny access to resources, influence and upward mobility.

That’s not helpful.

It’s not even compassionate.

Dr. King had this to say about it, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

The system is broken.

In a nation that proclaims that it is self evident that all people are created equal, our social, economic and political systems seem to suggest that some people are created more equal than others.

At the root of that reality is greed.

Greed is not compatible with biblical justice.

It is also not a basic human need. It actually denies the basic human need of morality. In that way, greed is its own form of poverty or as Mother Teresa put it:

“It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

Greed, the love of money and things, is the root of the weed that is poverty.

It is time for us to start a little weeding.

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