Have you ever said something and then a day later, realised you were wrong or didn’t get it fully right? As I listened to the sermon at church last Sunday morning from Mark 2:18 -3:6, some new light was shed on a couple of things, but among them was the year of Jubilee – which I had posted about only the night before. I also finished reading the book today.
So I’ve put together a follow-up post – with the five key things I’m going to take away from reading this book.
Number 1: Jesus fulfilled all the laws in the Old Testament including those about justice & caring for the poor.
For example…in the sermon on Sunday we were looking at Jesus’ healing of the man with the shriveled hand on the sabbath (the seventh day). Jesus says “Stretch out your hand,” and the man stretches it out, completely restored.
In Deuteronomy 15 God says:
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
Open-handed as opposed to tightfisted…I never would have made this connection (and I appreciate that we have a Minister who preaches faithfully and deeply from God’s word). Matt proposed that Jesus’ death and resurrection may have taken place in a Jubilee year. In the Jubilee year not only did the land return to the original landowners but also all debts were cancelled and slaves set free (this was also required every seven years). Jesus death and resurrection cancelled the biggest debt of all and set us free from sin and death.
Number 2: Jesus identifies with the poor to the point of death on a cross.
At every turn, Jesus was spending time with and restoring life to the outcasts, the poor, the forgotten, the isolated and the foreigner – smashing social mores, racial barriers and expectations. And ultimately, the God of the universe made himself nothing on the cross after enduring the worst of trials to pay the debt of all of us who are spiritually poor
I loved that the book includes a whole chapter on The Parable of the Good Samaritan, when Jesus challenges the Pharisees about the righteous life they claim to live. Keller says that Jesus was in effect asking them, “Do you meet the needs of your neighbour with all the joy, energy, and fastidiousness with which you meet your own needs? That is the kind of life you owe your God and your fellow human beings.” (p.64)
Number 3: Break down some of the obstacles to generosity: “They’re not destitute so they don’t need my help” and “they don’t seem to appreciate what I give – and they just ask for more.”
The reality is that it is not just the destitute that we are called to care for. The very poor in one part of the world might be very different in another place. And a natural disaster like the earthquake in Japan could change this anyway. The thing is, in His love for all the world God sent Jesus to die for ALL sinners without distinction.
Yesterday when I was doing our grocery shopping in Woolworths, a man asked me for a dollar to get some milk. And there were two thoughts which flashed across my mind either then or as I kept on with my shopping…(1) he’s got headphones in his ears and tattoos – he can’t be that poor – why does he need my money? and (2) is he really going to spend it on milk?
On this occasion I gave him the dollar, but that’s not always my response to those who ask – sometimes I lie and say I have no change. What’s with that? It’s not my money anyway, and God calls me to generous with what He has so graciously given to me – and that extends beyond money.
Number 4: How I respond to the poor may be the truest indication of my heart.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
The book ends with a challenging story about this, but I can’t give away the ending – just wouldn’t be right. You’ll have to read it for yourself! This is profoundly challenging.
Number 5: Empowerment not dependency
Doing justice has many forms and levels but what’s important in the long term is to empower individuals and communities for the future rather than providing endless handouts and no way out. Different types of relief (such as food, shelter or medical attention) may be necessary to help a person in need in the short term, but to really help a person or community, they need things like education, job opportunities, and the confidence that can come through strong relationships – with God and others, to really move forward and break some of the cycles. This usually takes a lot of time, money and energy, but I think I’m willing to go there. In the Old Testament times, the Sabbath day and year was devoted to serving God – perhaps there is merit to a return to this on some level?
Overall, I loved picking this book up and knowing that on every page there would be some pearl of wisdom or story or biblical truth that I could learn from. And I liked Timothy Keller’s writing style so I am interested to read some more of his books.