What are your first thoughts when you hear about the poor?
Do you think of the poor as only those who are lazy and refuse to take initiative and so suffer the consequences of their own sloth? Or do you think of the poor as only those who are victims of the powerful and the strong, victims of those who know how to work the system at the expense of the weak?
The biblical portrait of the poor is not easily isolated to one side or the other of these two options. There are, it appears, four categories of the poor revealed in scripture.
Third, some people are poor because they are exploited. Throughout the Mosaic legislation the Lord frequently addresses the temptation to exploit the poor. Deuteronomy 24:14 says, "You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin."
The poor are an easy target. They usually do not have friends in positions of power and they do not have the money to pay for skilled advocates. They are often lied to by wicked schemers who know their poor victims will not be able to prosecute their exploitation. Just think what your life would be like if you had been born in East Los Angeles to a single mother addicted to crack. In a climate where sinners aggressively exploit others sinners there is a strong headwind against reaching prosperity.
Overwhelmingly the vast majority of the scriptures about the poor speak to their exploitation and their righteousness.
Who shall rescue the righteous poor from injustice? This question is raised again and again in scripture and answered most clearly: "May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!" (Psalm 72:4). The Psalm is speaking of God's King. The divinely appointed King will defend the poor - the Lord Jesus Christ!
King Jesus also defends the poor by raising up, through the Holy Spirit, children who have his wisdom, wealth and compassion to help the poor: "But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:13-14).
King Jesus has no little interest in the poor and so no wonder the first apostles (James, Peter, John) charged the last (Paul) with one thing: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). Remember the poor and you will remember the very ones whom the Lord will not forget.