Recently, I was listening to a sermon. The pastor referred to Jesus’ statement in Luke 4:18 that God sent him to preach good news to the poor. The pastor asked why the Gospel would be good news for the poor, specifically. His response was that, when we accept Jesus into our hearts, God fills us with generosity towards others. The pastor later said in the sermon that some of us are still working on this or struggling with it, which makes me wonder how much God is truly filling us with generosity, but I digress.
Am I convinced by the pastor’s interpretation of Luke 4:18? I have to admit that it does attract me. I have interpreted Luke 4:18 to be an example of Jesus’ imminent eschatology: the poor are to be comforted with the idea that God will soon come, overthrow evil, and set up God’s kingdom on earth, a kingdom in which the poor will not want. Of course, the theological problem here is that this did not happen, at least not if you interpret that stuff literally. But I did have an alternative idea in my head a while back: perhaps Jesus’ Gospel was good news for the poor because it would entail the creation of a church, which would help the poor (see my post here). That is not foreign to the thought of Luke-Acts, for, in the Book of Acts, the church helps the poor and is a community in which the last becomes first and the first becomes last. That overlaps with what the pastor was saying.
It also seems to me that the church was a step up from Greco-Roman society in its support of charity for the poor. See my post here, in which I interact with ancient Greek attitudes about the poor. Essentially, ancient Greeks supported philanthropy, but they did not emphasize helping the poor specifically, whereas Judaism and Christianity did. The Romans lacked a sufficient welfare system, but there were some private donors, and yet the Christians took charity to a whole new level (see here). In a sense, the Gospel was good news for the poor. Where would the poor have been without the support system that Christianity created?
I have to admire Christianity for drawing inspiration from the teachings and example of Jesus and encouraging people to give to others. There are areas in which Christianity can muck up any generosity within me, however, by making me wonder if I am giving for the right reasons, or if my giving reflects the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or is instead a misguided attempt on my part of appease God. I don’t think I should worry about that, though. Whom does it help?