Day 14: Proverbs 14: 21, 31
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
- Notice how v. 21 speaks about an individual’s righteousness and blessedness in relation to his/her orientation toward the poor
- It’s tempting to assume that the sinfulness is caused by their mistreatment of the poor. It’s also tempting to assume that the blessedness is a result of the generosity. However, the verse doesn’t outline this, explicitly. Instead, it seems that the despising and the generosity are simply manifestations of these internal realities.
- Looking at v. 31, we see a direct connection between our orientation towards the poor and God. To oppress the poor, it says, is the same as insulting God, Himself.
- Conversely, to treat the poor with generosity honors Him.
These verses from Proverbs 14 highlight two significant themes in the Scriptures regarding the poor. The first points us to a dynamic we all experience: that our outward, visible treatment of the needy reflects internal, invisible realities. The one despising the them is identified by his/her unrighteousness, whereas the one who is generous is identified by his/her blessedness. Those of us living on the other side of the resurrection can more easily understand how this happens, for the person who has been united with Christ and freed from their sin now adopts a radically new orientation toward the people around him/her; particularly the people with nothing to offer. Similarly, the person who has not experienced this takes on the natural orientation we’re all tempted toward, which is to serve ourselves above others. Remembering this provides a helpful barometer for our hearts. When we sense within us a hostility toward the poor, whether it be an unwillingness to help or even a resentment, this should draw attention to the fact that something is askew in our walk with God.
The second theme this touches on is what some scholars call “God’s preferential treatment of the poor”, or the reality that the God of the Bible identifies so closely with them that because He is (and our) Maker, to treat them a certain way is to treat God the this way. This reality challenges any temptation we might have to think of our own personal relationship with God being distinct from our relationships with others, especially the needy. Since He has chosen to minister to them through us, such a distinction is impossible.
Heavenly Father, have mercy on the ways I might overlook those you have placed around me. Please make me conscious of my identity in You; the righteousness You have given me in uniting me with Christ, and the joy with which You have filled me. And make me so aware of this that I would not help but be able to honor You in how I treat those whom You have made.
- Fr Bryan White