Jim Wallis is the founder of the social justice organization Sojourners. In the November 2011 issue of their publication he tells the story of how Sojourners began.
He and a core group met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the northern suburbs of Chicago in 1971. Wallis says that many of them had decided to attend Trinity to argue with their own evangelical tradition as to what the Bible really says.
One way they did this was by finding every verse they could locate in the Bible about the poor, wealth, poverty, and social justice. They started in Genesis and worked their way through Revelation. Every time they found a passage on one of these topics they took their scissors and cut it out. (That may shock you. Does it help that they used an old Bible?)
They had found over 2,000 texts. After cutting out the passages they were left with a “Bible full of holes.” Wallis would take it with him and show what a Bible looks like without compassion whenever he would go speak. The group’s preaching made people uncomfortable and almost got them expelled from the school.
James 5:1-6 is one of the passages that would have been cut out. It’s the kind we would like to expel from our Bibles. James tells his audience they have “lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” They have “murdered the righteous person.” They did it by holding back wages of day laborers while they had so much their treasure was rotting.
I’m glad James berates those rich people and not you and me. But maybe we need to rethink who is rich. If you go to the website www.givingwhatwecan.org you can find a calculator under the heading “How Rich am I?” I took the median household income in America for 2013 which was $51,939. I plugged in two adults and one child since the 2010 Census revealed the average household size to be 2.58 people. (I didn’t know how to put in a .58 people.) And I figured adults might cost more with clothes and food so I gave the extra full person to the adult.
The result says that this person would be in the richest 5.9% of the world’s population. That income is 17.2 times the global average. And if you gave 10% of your income you would still be in the richest 6.9% of the world’s population and still be 15.5 times the global average.
James wants us to understand that “it’s not about us!” What God gives us is to be used for our sustenance but also to bring about his kingdom. Accumulating too much can cause us to believe that the world revolves around us. James wants us to learn to love our neighbor.
- 21,000 people die every day due to hunger or hunger-related causes. That’s one every four seconds.
- 750 million people—about 1 in 9—lack access to safe water. More than twice that many, 2.5 billion people—about 1 in 3—don’t have access to improved sanitation.
- The number of under five deaths was cut in half between 1990 and 2013, from 12.7 million to 6.3 million. Still, 17,000 children die every day.
When the rich don’t listen to the cries of the poor people die. So find a neighbor and do something.
Find a global need and meet it. There are numerous organizations that you can donate some of your income to that are helping meet the needs of world hunger and water shortage. Just Google “world hunger.” No excuses. You’ll find plenty of ways you can help by giving up a coffee run once a week.
And find a local need and meet it. People are hungry in your community. And those needs will grow as your community grows.
When we do that we will see the Kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven. In the meantime, don’t cut out the poor from your Bibles. And don’t cut them out of your life.
Question: Where do you see the poor in your daily routine? How might you help?