Fellow Listers, let us consider the connection between serving the poor and our own salvation.
1. A Matter of Heaven & Hell?
“If we don’t love the poor, and do all we can to improve their lot, we’re going to go to Hell.”
Archbishop Chaput, Philadelphia
2. What Does the Old Testament Say?
The following is but a sample of Old Testament Scriptures relating to poverty. However, the below were selected due to their focus on the reciprocal nature between how we treat the poor and how we will be treated by both man and God.
“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” – Prov 14:31
“Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” – Prov 21:13
“Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.” – Prov 28:27
“Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. Then all the people shall say, Amen!” Deuteronomy 27:19
“He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.” Proverbs 19:17
“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” Proverbs 29:7
“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
“‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 22:16
3. What does the New Testament Say?
“Cornelius stared at him in fear. What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.'” Acts 10:4
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
4. Is Serving the Poor Ever Explicitly Tied to Salvation?
Consider Christ’s parable recorded in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel:
The Righteous Serve the Poor and Find Salvation:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
To Serve the Poor is to Serve Christ:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
To Neglect the Poor Is to Neglect Christ:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
A Matter of Heaven & Hell:
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
We also see the same vein within the teachings of St. James:
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” – James 2:15-17
5. The Poor & Our Salvation Are Connected
Accepting Christ as Lord means you accept him as King and thus as King’s subject you must act accordingly. Grace is never earned, it can only be given; but, once that gift has been given we are charged with cultivating it by living a life of virtue and becoming more Christ-like. More often than not, denial of Christ’s Lordship comes in our actions, not our words. Sin comes in many variants, but the sin of omission is most devious because it only requires that we do nothing. However, if we close our eyes to the poor, not only are we cursed, but we have shunned Christ, our own King.
Serving the Poor: blessings, God answering prayer, being remember in our time of trouble, Salvation
Neglecting the Poor: curses, isolation, dead faith, and eternal punishment
We should also remember that oppression of the poor is one of the sins Holy Mother Church tells us cry out to heaven for vengeance.
Serve the Poor