Image: Francis of Assisi in Franco Zefferelli’s gorgeous film, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”
“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor,” Galatians 2:10
Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis describes how, during the conclave, as it became evident that the voting was swinging his way, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes of Brazil, “a great friend, hugged me, he kissed me and he said, ‘Remember the poor!’ And that way the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi.” The saint who loved the poor.
Canadian songwriter and church planter David Ruis, whom I heard speak at a New Wine Conference has a tattoo on his arm which says, “Remember the Poor.” Except it starts at the wrist, and travels up his elbow, and his shirt covers the last letter, the joke goes.
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So how do we remember the poor?
Well, we share our wealth. How much? The Old Testament figure of 10% remains a good yardstick, in my opinion, though this sum should be governed by grace and the spirit, not law.
Just 10%? Not “sell all you have and give to the poor?” (Matt 19:21). Well, I have noticed both when I lived in small town Williamsburg, VA and in Oxford, that God places Christians at every level of society from the highest, right down. In the Gospels, the people attracted to Jesus included rich members of the Sanhedrin like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as well as fisherman.
At my evangelical church in Oxford, my small group and spouses includes two Principals of Oxford Colleges, ministry heads, doctors, professors and successful business people. To be realistic, if these people did not dress, drive cars, entertain and live in houses that befit their “station in life,” to use a Catholic phrase, they would be written off as weird and different, and their ability to be the fragrance of Christ, to present Christ and faith in him as attractive would be severely compromised. For that is one way of winning people to Christ—lifestyle evangelism, being the fragrance of Christ, attracting people long before important conversations ever take place.
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Hmm. So remember the poor without necessarily giving away so much money that you are one of the poor. How do you do that?
Here are some ways I can think of, which I mostly practice.
1 Give. Of course. Many (most?) Christians in the first world could increase their giving without feeling the pinch, I suspect!
2 Even if the money you saved is not necessarily given away, and even if you are not yourself poor, act in your choices as if you remember that you live in a world in which there is extreme poverty.
Don’t necessarily treat yourself to the best of everything, even if you can sometimes afford to. It’s a small way of maintaining solidarity with the poor.
Some practical ways:
a) Restraint in clothing—not buying too many clothes which are overpriced, will rarely be worn, or are whimsically fashionable and will soon date—even if one can afford to.
b) Restraint in food choices—not necessarily buying the most expensive items in the store or in a restaurant menu, even if one can afford to. Being content with simplicity
c) Interior decoration. I used to upgrade when furniture looked a bit worn, but now I often say, “So what? It’s a bit old and a bit worse for wear, but so what?”
d) Not having the best you can afford in things which tend to be status symbols (houses, cars, holidays) frees you from caring what people think, or how they assess your income or net worth.
For instance, we bought our family car, a Chrysler Town and Country minivan (called a Dodge people-carrier here, in the UK) in 2001. It’s now 13 years old, but is running well, and so we haven’t replaced it!
e) On the other hand, avoid false economies whenever you can afford to. These waste both time and money. Though, of course, you will pay more at the outset, buying high quality furniture, clothing, appliances and cars which you can use for many years makes perfect sense even in a world of poverty (rather than buying cheap computers, shoes, toasters and clothes which you will always be replacing).
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Oh, I am just a novice at this. What is the best way to “remember the poor?”