Submitted by Jan on Tue, 12/11/2013 – 17:27
Year C (2012-2013)
Bible Book: 2 Thessalonians / 2 Tessalonisense
Chapter: 3
Verse: 6 – 13

I heard this text quoted a number of times recently. Mostly this was when people who are economically comfortable or even rich, comment about a beggar or a homeless person on a street corner. I even heard a respected pastor say: “We all know there are people who want to be poor”, and then carried on to say “You know, the Bible tells us that those who are unwilling to work shall not eat”!

I was really disturbed by this statement and concerned by how prevalent this feeling is. I often hear this from Christians who say that they do not support poverty programmes. I hear this used when we judge and reject people. And I wonder if this is really what the author had in mind.

Was the purpose of this text really to divide people, to create a situation where we can ‘write off’ people who are not working, or are unable to look after themselves?

I don’t think so!

I am concerned that if we read this text so simplistically,

  • we lose the focus on the drivers of poverty and inequality
  • we no longer think about the societal and political factors which put people at risk of poverty
  • we no longer think of the effect of poor nutrition or poor education on the development of an individual
  • we know longer consider the effect of continued disappointment and ‘learned helplessness’
  • we no longer think of the psychological effects of years or even generations of failure
  • we no longer hear the Bibles’s continued call for people of faith to speak out on poverty and injustice
  • we are able to justify our apathy and unwillingness to become involved.

I recently heard that there are 2,000 verses in the Bible about the poor and vulnerable, about suffering and indifference, injustice and oppression – all with God inviting compassion and calling for justice.* If this is so important in our holy scripture, can we use this text to justify not being involved in the challenges of poverty?

When we do respond, there is the danger that we respond with handouts and in ways that emphasise the power of the giver and the powerlessness of the one being assisted. If we help in this way, we can in fact add to the problem. The challenge when we help is to help in ways that are developmental and transforming. **

If our text is then not about dismissing and devaluing those with less material resource, what is the author actually saying?

I think the key is in 2Th 3:11: “We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies.”

It is not the fact that someone is not able to work that is the issue, but rather that they are “disruptive” and that they are “busybodies”. The harm someone is doing to the community is the issue!

This text is not an excuse to judge others, it is a call to all of us not to be disruptive and not to be busybodies! And it can never be a counter to all the many texts that call on us to respond of the needs of those of us who are poor.

To think about: Are you and your faith community responding to the challenges of poverty? How? Are you responding in a way that ensures development and does not continue to foster dependence?

**If you would like to read more, I suggest resources such as:
“Walking with the Poor”, by Bryant Myers
“When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert
Asset Based Community Development
Community Life Competence

Written by: Lyn van Rooyen, CABSA Director

Author: van Rooyen L (Ms)
Language: English