Jesus Experiences Poverty

Some Gospel accounts say Jesus was born in Bethlehem (but this is probably not the case as the dates and known historical people mentioned do not match). He had a home with the family in Capernaum and is associated with Nazareth, both in Galilee. This region, unlike Jerusalem, was poor, although there was a Roman city in the area. His father may have been a carpenter who would have been self-employed and just able to make ends meet. Jesus would have learnt his trade (some sources however suggest that the translation to carpenter can mean scholar). Jesus only really encountered wealth in the last week or so of his life on entering Jerusalem. He turned over the moneychangers' tables in anger and he would have seen the ornate tombs of the wealthy dead.

Jesus' ministry was based on teaching the poor to turn from sin and to be prepared for the coming Kingdom of God. Because the lot of the poor was so difficult (they could easily slide into destitution) he said it was harder for the rich with their easier lives to enter the coming Kingdom.

In those days sin was believed to cause death and bad health (thus the atonement that Jesus, who did not have to die, did die as a loving act to save others from death caused by sin…). Diseases we today regard as natural he and they regarded as caused by evil spirits that had to be exorcised. He healed people to remove evil sin-causing spirits. Because the poor suffer from more ill health than the rich (due to worse diet, low resistance to disease), Jesus was healing amongst the poor to remove their evil demons and sin and to therefore prepare them for the coming Kingdom of God.

As well as healing Jesus taught. Jesus often spoke in parables, multi-layered stories allowing the hearers to use their own experiences and make more of the morals of the story. He often spoke on poverty. An example is the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31). Also the Sermon on the Mount is a collection of Jesus' rabbinical (teaching) sayings over the time of his teaching put into one collection as if from one place. (Matthew 5: 3-12, etc. to 7:29).

First question: What was it in Jesus experience and abilities that led him to focus on poverty in his ministry of teaching and healing?


The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

A rich man lived in luxury and a poor man covered in sores hoped for hoped to eat the rich man's crumbs and leftovers. They both died. The rich man ended up in eternal torment whilst the poor man was in heaven next to Abraham. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his wealthy brothers that they could end up in hell too. Abraham said no. They can read Moses and the prophets and what they said about wealth, poverty and the good life.


Relating this to the world today...

2. In what way might Western countries be like the rich man in the parable?
3. In what way are poor countries like Lazarus?
4. What would the Kingdom of God on earth be like?
5. Write 100 words or so on how the rich countries can help the poor countries.
6. What differences might there be between an average family in the developing world and an average family in the Western world?
7. Write a diary extract for the day if you were a poor villager in a rural area in the developing world.
8. Explain one of the messages of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 3-12 - Bible required) regarding poverty?
9. Design a poster using biblical material to present a Christian message about the existence of inequality in the world.