Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,

   but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

Proverbs 14: 21

The people who live near us are not always nice and pleasant to be around. In fact, they can be utterly nasty and difficult. So, when the concept of neighbor is expanded to include the much wider range of locality that God tends to place into that word by way of meaning, the prospects for being required to engage with people who cause me anxiety, anger, or even who invoke hatred is greatly increased. But Solomon was not finished there when he set down these words of wisdom for the ages to come. He jumps from people who live in some form of proximity to us to the inclusion of others who have little to no economic means, the poor. Although any one of us may not have financial resources that place us among the elite of our world, most of us are also not living at the level wherein meals are doubtful and shelter is not even a dream that we can entertain. Yet, there are large numbers of people who, for various and often complex reasons, exist well below the governmentally defines poverty line.

These poor are everywhere in the world. There is really no culture or location that does not have them in its midst. This has been true for most of the earth’s history, too. In this simple, proverbial statement, the poor of the world are transferred from the realm of those who exist out there away from my door and they are brought into my front yard. Thus, they are defined as people that I need to care about at the level of individuals who have a story to tell and whose lives have an impact upon my own. There is no longer any escaping a certain responsibility to them that is placed upon me by God. Even if society might turn away from them, governments may try to regulate their coming and going, and the world attempt to deny them the basic dignity of recognition as God’s own beloved children, God does not grant His people with the right to think and to act in these ways.

We are to open our doors to our neighbors and to seek to know and to understand them. In so doing, we have the best opportunity to present Christ and His gospel of redemption to them. We are also made vulnerable and our personal strength and capacity to care for others is severely tested in the process of entertaining these neighbors. Yet, these are also times when we are taken ever deeper into our faith in God and dependence upon Him as the resource that we call upon when we reach the end of ourselves. Now, Christ adds to the mix of people who fill up the neighborhood where we dwell with the poor, the disadvantaged, the homeless, and the troubled people of our world, and He tells us to treat them as we do our neighbors. We are to look them in the eye, reach out with the hand of fellowship and care, and grant them the dignity that is their right as God’s creation. Christ loves these people greatly, and He calls upon each of us who follow Him to do the same.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his maker,

   but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

Proverbs 14: 31