Consider the Poor (Psalm 41)
- Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
- Hymns: LSB #803, 845, 702
Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him. (Psalm 41:1)
Jesus considers the poor. And He blesses those who consider the poor. This is the point behind the parable of the Good Samaritan. Not only an answer to the lawyer's question, "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29) But the answer to his original question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25) To inherit eternal life is to be like God and therefore to consider the poor.
By nature, we want the poor to remain invisible. We want to shuffle them off to the out-of-the-way places so we don't have to see them. Our hearts break for those Feed the Children(TM) commercials. But we're glad that "those people" are halfway around the world. By nature, we don't want to be troubled by them. If we must put up with them, we want them to stay out of the way. Much like some of the congregations St. James chastised (2:1-6):
- My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?
Many consider the poor to deserve everything they get. Very much like the rich man in Nathan's parable to David: "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him" (2 Samuel 12:1-4).
But America is also the country of the Cinderella story. We are encouraged by the rags-to-riches stories of those who overcome their poverty and become rich. We like to root for the underdog. But our celebrity-driven culture encourages us to look to those who have money. Social experiments have been done by various groups to show that people would much rather deal with a rich person than a poor person. Movies like Trading Places, Pretty Woman and Aladdin show this to be true. The rich are considered inherently better people. The poor have done something to deserve what happens to them. Taking Solomon's proverb literally, "A rich man's wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin" (Proverbs 10:15). This can even be seen in Slumdog Millionaire, as the entire plot of the movie revolves around the impossibility of a "slumdog" to know any of these answers in the game show.
Solomon writes, "Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him" (Proverbs 14:31). Everyone who comes to God in faith comes as a "slumdog". As the hymn says, "Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling" (LSB #761.3). We can approach God with this confident faith because we believe that He "considers the poor" (v1). And He gives His poor the blessings of His consideration. An example of this comes from a third-century martyr, St. Lawrence of Rome. He shows how a Christian should consider the poor. Lawrence was the archdeacon, what we'd call the head elder, of the Church of Rome in the mid-third century. Part of his responsibilities was the care of the congregation's treasury and the distribution of alms. After Pope Sixtus was executed by the Roman prefect, the prefect offered Lawrence his life. Lawrence would be able to live if he would hand over the Church's treasures. Lawrence asked for three days. When those three days were completed, Lawrence appeared before the prefect once again. This time, he was accompanied by the poor, the crippled, the blind and suffering. These he declared as the greatest treasures of the Church. For his perceived insolence, the prefect had him burned to death on a gridiron. Lawrence considered the poor as part of the great treasures of the Church. But the prefect only saw contemptible poverty and a waste of his time.
The natural attraction to the material riches of this world brings itself to the forefront as the lawyer questions Jesus. We desire to justify ourselves (Luke 10:29). As we have learned from the Eighth Commandment, the greatest possession we have is our reputation. And we like to shine it up and polish it. To make ourselves look wonderful. To have people look up to us. To respect us. To see us as better than them.
No one was more respected and honored in Israelite history than the Levites and the priests. So when Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Levites and the priests are the bad guys. Once again, Jesus turns the world upside down. The man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho is "the poor" that we are to consider. The Levite and the priest who walked by him said, "A deadly thing is poured out on him; he will not rise again from where he lies" (v8). He's not worth my time! The Levite and the priest--"my close friend in whom I trusted ... has lifted his heel against me" (v9). The well-respected would not consider the poor. Even though they would know God's commandment, "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:15). Even in the Mosaic Law, everyone in Israel was equal in God's sight. Whether rich or poor.
But Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Jesus considers the poor in everything He does. He became incarnate for the poor. Jesus died for the sins of the poor. He opened the gates of Heaven for the poor. As St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, "For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Boasting in our Lord Jesus Christ, we remember Jesus' grace, "that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
"In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him" (v1). This deliverance was done once-for-all on the cross of Calvary. The eternal Son of God becomes poor so that the poor dregs of society might gain Heaven. Answering their prayer, "O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you" (v4). Jesus' healing of sin "delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of" Heaven (Colossians 1:13). Jesus' healing of sin drives us to follow and keep His statutes and rules (Leviticus 18:4-5). St. Paul praises the Colossian Christians: "We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in Heaven" (1:4-5). The Colossian Christians, as many of the Christians in the early Church, were economically poor. They clamored for the promise of Heaven. The glory of the heavenly Father's love. The Son of God gave up eternal glory to take on the poverty of the cross so that you might inherit everlasting life.
With this eternal inheritance, there is the promise of protection and provision in this life as well. The Psalm says, "The LORD protects him and keeps him alive" (v2). While the devil throws flaming darts at you (Ephesians 6:16), Jesus is your Shield (Psalm 28:7). When He sent out the seventy disciples, He gave them "authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of hte enemy, and nothing shall hurt you" (Luke 10:19). But Christians are tortured. Christians die at the hands of Christ's enemies. Jesus tells us, "Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do" (Luke 12:4). Christ's enemies cannot do anything more to you than destroy your body. They cannot take away your eternal inheritance.
While we still live in this world, Jesus gives provision for the body. Therefore we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." He provided this through the civil law of Israel, as we read earlier: "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to the edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor" (Leviticus 19:9-10). Every farmer, every vineyard owner was supposed to harvest everything except for the fringes. That was left for the poor of the land. God considers the poor by making sure that they have provisions provided for them.
Food and water are not the only provisions. Daily bread includes everything we need for body and soul. "The LORD sustains him on his sickbed" (v3). Health is a wonderful provision that God gives to each of us. And the promise that the prayer of faith may even heal a person on their sickbed. St. James encourages Christians, "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (5:13-15). Let those who are sick and suffering call upon their Pastor so that he might pray over them. That they might be restore to full health (v3). However, we must understand that often God restores a person to full health by taking them through the gate of death and the grave. Not a showing of a lack of faith. A showing that "whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8). Our lives, our deaths, our eternal inheritance are in His hands.
Therefore we shout, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting" (v13). The great hymns of the Church throughout the centuries are based on the everlasting blessing of God. After she gives birth to Samuel, Hannah sings, "My heart exults in the LORD ... There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides You; there is no rock like our God. ... The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and on them he has set the world" (1 Samuel 2:1-8). Hannah blessed God because He had heard her prayer. David ends the Psalm with this blessing that all who pray it may know that God considers the poor. He encourages us to do the same. And we add our prayer to David's that we might consider the poor in all that we do. Not for ourselves. But for the promises of the Lord. The Lord who considered our poverty and came down to save us. Amen.
Lord Jesus, who came to Your own and they received You not, grant us Your Spirit to glorify You in our hearts. Enlighten our souls with this living knowledge that You are the power of God and the wisdom of God, that we may never be offended in You, but may hold Your righteousness in an unwavering faith, and may not be ashamed to confess You before men. Amen.