If Jesus is indeed risen, in charge, and calling us to marshall the energy of Heaven for the good of earth, then where do we begin?
I think you can make a pretty good case that the alleviation of poverty is always a good place to start. Consider some of the following passages.
First, this was what God commanded of the Israelites in the Old Testament:
“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you. However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.” (Deuteronomy 15.1-5)
Jesus, the incarnate form of God, represented as clearly as we can see what the passions of God’s heart are. The first breath Jesus takes as a human was in an impoverished situation. He was born in a borrowed barn to parents who were poor (when they made the offering at the temple they could only afford pigeons, which was the poorest state you could be in). Jesus said he had no home of his own, and would ultimately die and be buried in a borrowed tomb. How did Jesus define his ministry and the passions of God? Addressing poverty was not the only thing Jesus was concerned about, but it was a central theme:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4.17-21)
“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else? Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11.2-5)
We could just as easily include Matthew 25, where Jesus says the clear sign that we knew him was when we moved towards the least of these.
Finally, we see the movement towards and alleviation of poverty as one of the first signs of the energy of Heaven being released in the early church:
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2.44-45)
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4.32-35)
And finally, the Church of Antioch, which we have looked at in previous posts – the very first response they made to the Spirit calling them was to address oncoming poverty:
“One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the believers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11.28-30)