Many noteworthy individuals have made great sacrifices and devoted major portions of their lives to serve the poor, the downtrodden, and the hidden castaways of society. George Mueller of Bristol, William Wilberforce, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa are notable examples of those who imperfectly, yet valiantly, sought to serve the poor. While their sacrifices were significant, they each pale in comparison to the Perfect One whose ministry to the poor spans all of time and eternity—Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus’ ministry was to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to comfort the sorrowful, to care for the downtrodden, and especially, to give hope to the hopeless. He is the most compassionate individual who ever lived. Discarded masses were welcomed into His presence, and there they found blessings exceeding their grandest expectations. The Bible says it this way: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Twenty-first century disciples of Jesus should have the same care and compassion for the poor. They will feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the strangers, clothe the poor, visit the sick, and nurture the captives. (See Matthew 25:31-46.) They do so because Jesus showed them the way and gave the example. They recognize that their ministry to the poor is actually a ministry to Jesus Himself. They hear in His teaching that a life of selfishness never pleases God and demonstrates an individual that is serving self, not Jesus.
The very best way to serve the poor, of course, is to convey to them the riches of eternal salvation. Eternal life is a gift from God and it is available to everyone. To communicate that gift and clarify God’s will and purpose to an impoverished race (the human race, all of whom are born into spiritual poverty) is the responsibility of every true disciple of Jesus. We speak the truth in love and proclaim it clearly. We extend grace and always seek to restore the fallen. We remember the words of Jesus, who said, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). In pronouncing that blessing, He also warned, “Woe unto you that are rich! . . . (and) woe unto you that are full . . .” (Luke 6:24-25).
Jesus came to make right a world gone horribly wrong. He often spoke of a great reversal, such as, “The last shall be first, and the first (shall be) last.” He also said, “The poor have the gospel preached to them,” while the satisfied rich men turn smugly away. It was impoverished Lazarus who ultimately experienced the riches of everlasting comfort and blessing, while the one who neglected the opportunity to serve Lazarus suffered horrible torments. (See Luke 16:19-31.) Will you be Lazarus, or will you be the rich man? With whom will you identify, and where will you go?