The problem of poverty in the kingdom of God

Many others were living off these peasants and fisher-folk who toiled from dawn to dusk. Farmers’ land may have been seized when harvests were poor. I

May 25, 2019

By Anil Netto
The other day I attended a talk and the speaker, an international development worker, said something thought-provoking, “There have been so many hundreds of studies on poverty and its causes, but how many studies are there about wealth?”

Often we confine ourselves to thinking how the poor can be helped with “pro-poor” policies.

The problem of poverty should not be looked on in isolation. What if the problem also lies in how wealth is acquired? Are workers and the environment being relentlessly exploited in the process of acquiring wealth and profits at all cost?

What if the real problem is not how to wipe out poverty but how to narrow wealth disparities?

Was this why Jesus set a difficult task for the wealthy man in Mark 10:21-22 who had followed all the commandments?

21 Jesus looked steadily at him and he was filled with love for him, and he said, 'You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.'

22 But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

The Gospels do not say how he had acquired his wealth. But what is clear is that many of those Jesus came into contact with were those faced with poverty, debt and even destitution.

Many others were living off these peasants and fisher-folk who toiled from dawn to dusk. Farmers’ land may have been seized when harvests were poor. Independent farmers were then reduced to casual workers working on estates.

Even fisherfolk had a hard time. We can see how hard they worked in the Gospels.

In 1986, when the waters of the Sea of Galilee receded during a drought, a fishing boat was discovered on the bed of the fresh-water lake dating back to the First Century BC to the First Century AD. The boat measured 27 feet long by 7.5 feet wide.

The boat was made up of 10 different kinds of wood and even its planks were of assorted origin, suggesting that whoever used the boat would have had to scrounge around for scrap wood and material.

The boat had been subjected to repeated repairs and and it could have been used for up to a hundred years. This gives us a hint of the hardships faced by the fishermen on the lake who had to work long hours. They also had to deal with the tax collectors and syndicates in the fishing industry of the time.

Jesus spent a lot of time at fishing villages like Capernaum, along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Now Capernaum is just 10km north from Tiberias, the new capital of Galilee that Herod Antipas built along the Galilee lake as part of his programme of urbanisation. The town was built to honour the new Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar, who took over in 14AD. But there is no mention of Jesus visiting Tiberias.

Perhaps this is why Jesus told the wealthy man to sell all that he owned. The wide disparities among the followers of Jesus would have been problematic, especially if the rich man had acquired his wealth at the expense of the lower-income group.

After all, the world has enough for everyone’s need but not enough for their greed.

In our world today, it is not enough to address the needs of the poor, but more must be done to reduce the striking disparities which cause all kinds of social ills. This is all the more crucial as the environment is degraded, often leaving low-income groups most vulnerable.

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