The Covid-19 Pandemic will have a yet uncertain impact on the global economy. While Americans will suffer, most will escape the devastating impact felt by the poorest countries in the world. Obviously, the virus spreads indiscriminately. However, the plight of the poor places them inequitably in the path of the pandemic. What does the Bible say about that?
The Bible and the Poor
“Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses” (Proverbs 28:27).
God loves everyone the same. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” That’s what I was taught from childhood.
However, a careful reading of Scripture tells me a slightly different story. God’s love for the poor is ubiquitous with the Holy Scriptures. If I didn’t know better, I would get the idea that God loves the poor more than he loves me.
Why is that? How can God claim to love us all the same and yet spend so much ink on the plight of the poor?
I learned the answer when I became a father. I have three children, two boys, and a girl. All three have suffered from one kind of health issue or another since infancy.
Here was one of my first lessons in Fatherhood: I love all my children exactly the same, but when one of them is sick or suffering or in trouble — I love that one the most.
The Covid-19 Poor and Oppressed
“The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want …” (Mark 14:7).
In his inaugural sermon, Jesus proclaimed that he came to free the poor and oppressed (Luke 4:18-19).
His messianic program was based on the prophet Isaiah’s hopeful vision for a different kind of world. Hundreds of years before Jesus, Isaiah wrote:
“I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7).
While there are contextual differences between the contemporary poor and the poor in the First-Century Mediterranean world, we can find analogous examples of the poor and oppressed throughout the world today.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.” The primary factor is poverty.
Ironically, many of these working poor are serving in “essential industries,” forced into the path of the virus in order to provide resources to those of us who can afford to shelter.
The death toll is just the beginning of the impact of Covid-19. The economic toll promises to be even more devastating to the lives of the global poor.
According to the World Bank estimates, “COVID-19 will push 71 million into extreme poverty, measured at the international poverty line of $1.90 per day. With the downside scenario, this increases to 100 million … A large share of the new extreme poor will be concentrated in countries that are already struggling with high poverty rates and numbers of poor. Almost half of the projected new poor will be in South Asia, and more than a third in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Those who find themselves in the path of the virus because of governmental systemic failure to protect them are genuine candidates for the kind of “poor and oppressed” Jesus came to rescue. They are poor because they don’t have access to basic healthcare that could save their lives. They are oppressed because the wealthy in their country do have access.
Jesus clearly stands beside those with no access. When we serve them, we serve Jesus (Matt. 25:34-40).
Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us. Some hear that, throw their hands in the air and say, “there’s nothing we can do to solve the problem.” However, the true follower of Jesus rolls up her sleeves and says, “there’s so much work to be done!”
We may not be able to eradicate poverty (although that is a noble goal), but we can and must serve the poor.
A Christian Response to a Discriminating Virus
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17).
My father never liked me to characterize his childhood in terms of poverty. “We weren’t poor,” he would insist, “we didn’t have dirt floors.” His point is well-taken. Poverty is subjective. However, the Bible calls us to action wherever we see injustice, oppression, or an unmet need.
Jesus’ first disciples expressed love for neighbors, not with words, but with action.
James, the brother of Jesus, famously said, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). He seemed to be fighting against a misunderstanding of Paul’s more famous line, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). It is by faith that we are saved, Paul insisted, “not by work so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:9).
John clarifies and synthesizes James and Paul when he says that it is our love for God that compels us to “see” the needs of the poor and do something about it (1 John 3:17).
Faith and works are two sides of the same Christian coin.
Here are some things you can do to put your faith into action:
Pray — It makes a difference and you don’t have to leave your sheltered place to do it.
Serve — If you are not high risk, you can find a way to serve the poor in your community.
Activate — Get involved with a group that is fighting for the rights of the poor.
Give — Support a church or ministry that is helping the poor.
Someday, Jesus will ask us about this Pandemic, and we’ll say, “Lord, when did you have Covid-19 and we came to your bedside to help you?”
Jesus will smile and say, “When you did it for the poorest of my little children, you did it for me.”