Understanding God's heart and mind for the poor is possible only in relational connection
In the discussion of God's heart and mind for the poor and how to be a messenger of good news I proposed a vision of CARE which encompasses Compassion, Action, Relief and Elimination. I also proposed a larger mission of SEER, meaning Social Justice, Economics, Evangelism and Relationships.
"How to be a messenger of good news to the poor" addressed specifically the second E – Evangelism. Here, we look at the R - Relationships (and in the Vision, it is about Relief. Actually the two can be juxtaposed because they are related and indeed have the same purpose).
Why a Relational connection with the poor?:
God chose a people among the nations to create a very special relationship. It was a choice based not on merit but purely on God’s providence. The chosen were to relate to God and to one another in response to the mercy received: "Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this" (Deuteronomy 24:18).
In Deuteronomy 15:11 the commandment God gave to the people he set free from slavery was "to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land". In fact the verse begins with a cautionary note: "There will always be poor people in your community". There ought not be any escape or excuses and blaming. The poor and the needy are equal members of society.
Similarly, during festivals and celebrations, for example Shavuot, or Festival of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot which is appropriately called zman simhateynu – or "the time of our rejoicing" - the Israelites were commanded to rejoice, "you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees" (Deuteronomy 16:11-12; cf. 16:14).
The lesson here is that the covenant relationship that binds a people with their Redeemer, their Creator, their Sustenance or their God is a relationship that is inclusive of every member of the society. In other our humanity binds us together irrespective of abilities and achievements.
The moral character of any society is evident in the way it treats the least of its members. The prophets wove this truth in their message, reminding the Israelites of their call to represent God to the nations. Isaiah 1:17 for example states: "Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the orphan, plead the case of the widow". This is truly to represent God who "administers justice to the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing" (Deuteronomy 10:18).
Indeed, in Isaiah 5:7 – and elsewhere – the people of Israel are likened to the Lord's vineyard, a pleasant planting. What the Lord expects from this community, according to Isaiah 58:7 is no less than "to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your kin".
Clearly, this calls for more than charity or handout. This is a call for relationship.
The New Testament is no less emphatic about relational connection with the poor. When Jesus was a lunch guest at a Pharisee's house, he took the occasion to point this out: "when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind..." It is the same advice given in James 2.
Anybody who has devoted time to a relational connection with the poor will testify that they feel blessed as much as – if not more than – those they serve. There is spiritual blessedness felt when one gives time to interact with the poor. Any time spent to learn and understand another person's deep feelings and emotions is very rewarding. Indeed, scriptures promise blessings for relating to the poor.