THE BLOG
10/24/2013 03:03 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

BREAKING: Christians Are Supposed to Love Poor People

Politics. I know right. We’ve had plenty of it lately.

Government shut down. Obamacare. Debt limit ceiling. Default. Cuts to Food Stamps.

So, there I was, innocently minding my own business, posting something smart-alecky about Ted Cruz and his merry band of lackwits. All in good fun, of course.

And, as you might expect, there was all of the predictable back and forth -- the political equivalent of the school yard contretemps: “did not/did too.” You know, “the-Republicans-need-to-be-rational-vs.-Obama-is-Satan” argument that has filled so many hours on cable news.

So, when I posted my little bon mot on Facebook, I was prepared for the same old disagreements to turn up. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the blistering disquisition I received on the great Christian good to be accomplished by standing firm against the depredations of the shiftless and grabby poor who are addicted to government largesse.

Turns out, according to one commenter, that Jesus would have supported harsh constraints on the government’s insistence on helping the poor because he would not have wanted to contribute to the laziness of poor people that programs like welfare and food stamps inspire.

“Jesus wants people to work--not be lazy whiners. How can you defend them? Why don’t they just go out and get a job like everyone else?” he wanted to know--which doesn’t sound like the Jesus I read in the Gospels at all. In fact, it sounds to me suspiciously like asking someone pinned under a pickup truck, “Why don’t you get off your lazy butt and cut the grass? I cut my grass. Fred cuts his grass. People who don’t cut their grass are just lazy.”

I said: “Christians like me don’t care about the poor because we’re sentimental or because we’re soft on lazy people, but because we’re hard-headed and stubborn about taking Jesus at his word … that if we’re serious about following him, looking out for those pinned under the socio-economic pickup truck is the most important thing we have to do.”

The whole exchange got me to thinking about the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, which appears in the Gospel of Luke (18:1-8). In the story, a widow (among the most powerless and vulnerable in the world of the Bible) goes to the house of a judge seeking justice. According to the Gospel writer, Jesus tells a parable about a judge, “who neither feared God nor had respect for people,” but who ultimately relented, after being worn out because of the widow’s persistent pleading.

After telling the parable, Jesus asks, what is meant to be, a rhetorical question: “Don’t you think God--who’s not an obstreperous weasel, but who actually loves widows who’ve been screwed by the system--will grant justice to those who cry out?”

The answer is that God most assuredly desires justice for those whom the rest of society has a hard time hearing because their voices are so easy to tune out.

Now, the way this parable often gets read relies on an understanding of prayer as a way to irritate God into doing what you want. If you just say please … enough … God will eventually cave and give you what you’re asking for.

Don’t have what you want yet? You need to beg like a five year-old in the cereal aisle.

Notwithstanding the fact that this interpretation doesn’t paint a very generous picture either of God or of prayer, I think it misses a much larger point that Jesus is trying to make: What kind of a world do we live in when those who have the least agency, those who’ve been abused most by the system have to beg in order to get justice?

To return to my Facebook conversation, my question is: How do you defend a religious conviction that apparently believes God prefers a world where our children starve because you think Food Stamps inspire laziness, while simultaneously ignoring (or defending) the lavish expenditure of money on weapons built to kill other people’s children more quickly?

One of the complaints I hear most often about Christianity centers on its failure to produce Christians who actually look like Jesus. Christians, this argument goes, are merely shills for a political and economic system that seeks to protect the rich and keep the poor docile by distracting everyone with grave sounding discourse about the moral threat of gay marriage and teenagers’ access to contraception.

So, if Christians are ever going to establish credibility with anyone besides themselves, they’re going to have to start reading the Bible through the same eyes as the people with whom Jesus spent most of his time. The Gospels refer to them as the poor and the sick, as prostitutes and tax collectors, as widows and orphans.

Some quarters of the political world refer to them as “lazy whiners.”

I like to think of them as … people. God actually expects us to love all of them.