Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.
In the NRSV, Psalm 41:1 reads, “Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.” The English verb “to consider” rightly captures the sense of the underlying Hebrew verb, which means, “to pay attention, to ponder” (sakhal in the Hiphil). This verb conveys the sense of focusing one’s mind and heart on something or someone.
God intends, through his people, to provide for the poor that which can empower and strengthen them: good work for just wages, deliverance from oppressive systems, freedom from injustice, and the assurance that God is with them.
In my opinion, one of the greatest needs among Christians today is to consider the poor. Those of us who live with manifold material blessings can easily fail to care for the poor because we simply don’t see them. But when, for example, we take seriously the fact that there are over two billion people in this world who are chronically malnourished, and that over six million children die each year from malnutrition and its implications, then we may find our hearts moved to action. Or at least we should!
Moreover, even in the United States, many suffer from poverty. Most of these are not starving to death or living on the streets. They are, in fact, the “working poor,” those who are making every effort to flourish but find themselves stuck in economic and social systems that limit their opportunities.
Yet, we don’t hear much about the poor these days, either those throughout the world or those in our own country. In the recent presidential primaries, we heard lots and lots of concern about “the middle class.” Such concern is surely warranted. But almost no candidate showed any evidence of considering the poor. The perspective of Psalm 41:1 was absent from the campaign rhetoric.
In my experience, those of us who live in the midst of financial flourishing are encouraged to care for the poor by spending time with them. “The poor” are no longer an unknown class of people, but rather our brothers and sisters, our friends and family. For some people, getting to know the poor means helping in a feeding program on a regular basis. For others, a mission trip to an impoverished country fosters a permanent change in perspective. Being with the poor not only helps us to see our own life in a new perspective and to be grateful for our blessings, but it also allows God to fill our hearts with compassion and a transformative desire to be kind to the poor.
Being in relationship with people who are poor fulfills the prophetic word of Jesus, who told his disciples that they would “always have the poor among you” (Mark 14:7). Moreover, Jesus teaches us that when we feed the hungry, he receives this act of love as if it were offered to him (Matt. 25:40).
Yet, when we consider the full scope of biblical teaching, we realize that God’s vision for the poor isn’t just that they receive charity from those who are well off. Rather, God intends, through his people, to provide for the poor that which can empower and strengthen them: good work for just wages, deliverance from oppressive systems, freedom from injustice, and the assurance that God is with them.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What helps you pay attention to the poor?
How does this attention lead to tangible action in your life?
Dear Lord, I would confess that it’s easy for me to forget the poor. For many years now, I’ve lived in places where poverty is relatively invisible. I know this can limit my perspective. Forgive me, Lord, for my hardness of heart.
Help me to consider the poor. May I spend time with the poor so that I might know them and their challenges. And may I look at this world with your eyes, seeing its poverty as well as its potential. Amen.