Last week I blogged about homelessness. I listed five questions people ask about homelessness and poverty. Through statistics that come from here in Lancaster County, I attempted to dispel some myths and answer some questions.
But I saved the last question for today—Why should my hard-earned tax dollars go to supporting them? I did that because for a year I’ve thought about my taxes and the poor and planned to blog about it. I even planned to send my thoughts to my congressman, Lloyd Smucker. I just never wrote it down. Maybe I’ll send Rep. Smucker a copy of this blog post.
I’ve heard many Christians tell me the government shouldn’t be in the poverty-fighting business. Their usual argument is that individuals—as part of the church, maybe—are supposed to care for the poor.
They’ve quoted Jesus as proof: “I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me.” (Matthew 25:35–40). And I totally believe we are to live out the truth of those statements in our everyday lives. (By the way, that passage also contains, “I was a stranger and you took me in,” so if you’re going to quote these verses, you had better check your own stance on immigration and refugees.)
But here is the question: How many of the poor that surround your church do you know by name? Does anyone in your church know them? Would we even know if someone who attends our church is struggling to make ends meet?
And in a world where we end up with pockets of poverty because we keep affordable rental housing in certain areas (or out of certain neighborhoods), how do the few churches located there deal with all the poverty that surrounds them? Do we set up charities to pool our gifts so that churches in poverty-prone areas have the resources of all the churches to draw on? How does it work?
Jesus didn’t focus on the government when he walked the earth. It wasn’t why he was there at that time. But God did set up a form of government for the people of Israel, and we can read all those mind-numbing laws in the Old Testament to learn about it.
In the God-designed government, one of the laws was that when you harvested your fields you were to leave the corners of the fields unharvested (Leviticus 19:9–10). You also could not pick up anything you dropped or missed the first time through. The corners and the missed haul were set aside for the poor and the stranger. The poor had the right to come and take the grain that was there. The book of Ruth provides an example of how this provision worked. (Ruth was an immigrant, too, by the way.)
The harvest of the fields for the people of Israel was their paycheck. The grain was their income. And God instructed them to leave a portion of their income behind to provide for the poor. It was basically a tax on their income.
They didn’t collect it all and then dole out portions of it as they saw fit if they happened to run into a poor person they deemed worthy. That’s how charity would have worked.
No, the Israelites were “taxed.” Here’s what I’m commanding you, God said. Leave that portion of the harvest. The poor get to come and take it. You are not the gatekeeper who gets to decide who can gather up the income you had to leave behind.
I have no fields. I harvest nothing from the earth. But I do harvest a paycheck. And a portion of my income gets “left behind” as taxes, providing income for the poor.
And I’m okay with that. Because I believe God is okay with that.