Remember the poor

Today is Christmas – the birthday of Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem two millennia ago. The narrative of His birth is very important for us today, and not only because of the religion founded in His name, but for the message encapsulated in His life. Born in a manger among the domesticated animals kept there, the baby Jesus was of humble stock, since His nominal father, Joseph, was a carpenter. Joseph was made the Patron Saint of Workers by the Catholic, and even some protestant denominations, while Jesus ministered mostly to the poor during His sojourn on earth. In the Bible, it is written: “When he (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
The circumstance of His birth is intriguing, since it illustrated the Benjamin Franklin aphorism: “…in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Jesus, the “Son of God”, would die, and His birth in Bethlehem was occasioned by the Roman rulers mandating that a census was to be taken to ensure all who paid their taxes. It was the Jewish custom to be counted in their ancestral town or village. For the poor, however, Jesus pointed out, taxes fall of them much more heavily:
“He (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
In a world of increasing inequality, Jesus’s message is very apropos on this day. Even though named after Him, many will be hosting sumptuous feasts, as 7,000 of our brothers and sisters in the sugar belt still haven’t recovered from the blow dealt on them by the PNC Government over Christmas 2015: “He (Jesus) said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
To a large extent, the centrality of the poor to the ministry of the poor has been lost to Governments that are run by some who claim to be Christians, and presumably are living in accordance with the teachings of the Christ. Maybe it is not a coincidence, but a reminder to us that Jesus once fed 5,000 persons who were hungry. We are reminded by Jesus that, ultimately, it is our treatment of the poor that will determine our fate in the hereafter: “Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.” And it is these helpers of the downtrodden who will be received into heaven.
Jesus conceded, “Ye have the poor always with you.” But as St. Mark noted, he added, “and whensoever ye will, ye may do them good.” This was in strict accordance with the old Law from Deuteronomy 15:11: “The poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore, I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy in thy land”.