The great Clarence Jordan founded Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia, in the age of segregation. He dreamed of a Biblical community that was racially integrated, a common purse was shared and the only thing that mattered was being a child of God through Jesus Christ. Dozens of people came to work on the farm. Some stayed their whole lives; others stayed a season.
One young family came, full of zeal for Jesus and commitment to a radical lifestyle change. They embraced living in community, simple living and loving deeply.
Luther said, "Our righteousness can be more dangerous than our sin." When we give up a lifestyle, when we sacrifice, an unholy pride can creep in to fill the vacant space in our souls.
The young father was talking with Clarence one day. Rather humbly, he told Clarence he was learning to depend on God because he had chosen poverty. Clarence, with the same wisdom Jesus showed the rich young ruler, challenged him. Clarence said, "You are not poor. You have chosen to set aside your wealth for a season. That's a good thing. But you are not truly poor. If your child were stricken with a rare disease, you would call your parents. They would fly down immediately on their private jet. They would take your child to finest doctors, the best hospitals. They would spare no expense to save the life of their grandchild. The poor have no one to call."
It is easy to imagine the poor are lazy. We hear stories of people fighting their way out of poverty, and we imagine everyone could fight their way out if they just tried hard enough. Most of us, however, have never stood on the other side of the poverty divide. We do not know what it is like to have no vision for another future. We do not understand the power of temptations to dull reality. Think about how hard reality can be for people who have resources. Imagine how much harder it is for people with nothing.
It's easy to fool ourselves. We can believe we've known hard times. I remember my uncles and aunts discussing the Great Depression. They talked about being poor. The truth was, they had little cash. But they had a ranch. They raised their own food. They were not poor at all; they were struggling. There's a difference. We've all struggled. To be poor is to not just lack money; it is to lack hope.
Before you judge the poor, remember you do not understand. Jesus said, "Judge not, lest you be judged." Then remember Jesus also said, "Whoever does for the least of these my brothers, does for me." Jesus looked at the rich and the poor, and he said, "The poor are my people." To truly serve Jesus is to love and serve the poor, and to do it without condemnation.
As Jesus does, he leaves us with an uncomfortable choice: Do you want to feel superior? Do you want to be able to call someone when trouble comes? Or do you want to be where Jesus is?
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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