Preaching the Gospel to the Poor

A conversation on social media gave rise to this post. 


And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Matthew 11:2–6)

Does it seem strange that Christ describes Himself as “preaching to the poor?” His answer to St. John, of course, is referencing the quote from Isaiah concerning the coming of the Kingdom:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”(Luke 4:18)

Of course, this simply reiterates the preaching of the gospel to the poor. Why not preach the gospel to everyone? What is it about the poor that make them the special object of this gospel of the Kingdom? I suspect the answer to that question goes to the very heart of the Kingdom of God itself, and to a resident difficulty in the lives of most of us.

I recently engaged in a thought experiment. Suppose you gathered a crowd of the poor from across our nation, black, white, etc. They are gathered for a seminar in which the topic is, “How do you impact the culture of our nation for good?” Very likely, the crowd would soon thin out, for the simple reason that this is not a burning issue among the poor: it is a middle-class issue. It is the nature of the middle-class that it imagines itself to be among the creators of culture, something that links them (us) with the upper-class. There are, of course, many conversations among both the middle and upper classes about the nature of poverty and the problems associated with it. Some blame the poor, some excuse them, but none of them actually understand them or speak for them. And yet, Christ seems to say that the gospel is specifically targeted towards the poor.

The powerlessness of the poor is not only real, it has been real throughout history. It is of note, I think, that income and voter participation are directly linked in our country. The less the income, the less likely you are to vote. Of course, since we are a nation of pundits, people will interpret this fact in a variety of ways. I see it as an internalized sense of disenfranchisement, both culturally and otherwise. The place where this is least manifest is in Church attendance. Belief in God and Church attendance are highest among the poor and lowest among the wealthy. Apparently, Jesus is still preaching to the poor.

As a teenager, I dated the daugher of a wealthy family for a time. Her father was very involved politically. During that time, there was a state election for governor. The winner belonged to a different political party from her father, but, we attended the inauguration with front-row seats (I was invited along with the family). After the ceremony, we were received into the governor’s office for a private meeting. It was eye-opening for me. For the wealthy, the door to power remains open regardless of party-affiliation. I was impressed. It was a momentary glimpse in my life – into a world that most of us do not see and will not see. I returned, not long after, to my place in life.

At the very heart of a secular worldview is the belief that the world belongs to us and is ours to do with as we will (for good or ill). If you imagine yourself to be a good person, then you will also imagine yourself as committed to making the world a better place, and you will believe that such a thing is in your power. This idea permeates our culture and is difficult to ignore. Many of the poor, however, seem to think the message is meant for someone other than themselves.

The culture’s answer to the poor is to raise them to the middle-class through income and education. It is assumed that, somehow, poverty is like a disease and needs to be eradicated. The English held this idea quite strongly during the 18th and 19th centuries and urged the poor to leave England and go to America and Australia. It did not end poverty in England.

But it is the gospel that interests me. The good news of the gospel is not that Jesus has come and died in order to raise the poor up into the middle class. It is far more radical. Christ’s preaching seems in a number of places to be a rebuke to the blindness and deafness of those who have money and power. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” He says. He also notes that the meaning of what He says is hidden from those who imagine themselves to be wise while it is clear to children.

The secularized notions of modernity proclaim that there is nothing wrong with the world that the good intentions of educated people cannot fix. A mark of education is accepting that this is so. What marks the “elite” in America is not the positions they hold within the government or the culture. It is the position they hold in their own estimation as knowing what is best and most needed by others and the world in general.

It is the innocence, weakness, and powerlessness of the poor that seems to create fertile ground for the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The struggle for those of us within the middle-class (I do not imagine many of the poor read my blog) can often be described as seeking to acquire by virtue what many of the poor have by necessity. Is it any wonder that the monastic life seeks the weakness of poverty? I think we often elevate monastics like a spiritual talisman while we intend to do everything in our power to be nothing like them.

It has long been noted that Christ kept company with the “least of these,” and clearly sees them as a unique, even sacramental, presence among us. Today, the poor are more marginalized than ever. The rise of “Identity Politics” has largely replaced the poor with various aggrieved groups firmly entrenched in the middle class. It is a better political strategy in that such groups are far more likely to vote. The poor continue to be mentioned in various political slogans, but they have moved to the back of the line, displaced by the rising grievances of modernity’s latest creations.

I have a point in all of this, and it is not political. The behavior of our social politics differs little from times in the past. The only difference is that the group that can be identified as “middle class” is much larger today. The poor are among the most stable of all social groups. My point, however, is to ask of us the question: “What is it about the poor that makes them receptive to the good news?” A corollary to that is the abiding Christian question: “How do I become poor so that I might be saved?”

Consider the Scriptures:

For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–31)

I’ll add this wonderful passage from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. They are the words of a drunkard (Marmeladov) whose addiction has driven his daughter into prostitution. In a drunken stupor he spits out his vision of the Last Judgment:

…  “And Christ will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek…And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us, ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth without shame and shall stand before Him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘O Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ‘This is why I receive them, O ye wise, this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him…and we shall weep…and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!…and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even…she will understand…Lord, Thy kingdom come!” And he sank down on the bench exhausted and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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81 responses to “Preaching the Gospel to the Poor”

  1. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    For my regular readers I will add this observation: if we are willing to “bear a little shame,” we may very well find it to be a quick path towards union with the poor. For the humility it generates as well as the awareness of our own powerlessness comes along with that discipline. The poor, if you haven’t noticed, carry their shame with them everywhere, for all to see. They are like fools-for-Christ in our midst.

  2. Mother Olga Avatar
    Mother Olga

    Thank you, Father. I just finished watching a Youtube video on artificial intelligence with a group of online learners, and I left the zoom meeting in tears. It’s all secular. There is no God, no Holy Trinity. My comments are probably not related to your post, but your words are moving in my soul. Thank you!

  3. Greg Avatar

    It’s pretty clear that “American middle class” means rich by any world-historical standard, so the problem we have may be a bit worse than it appears.

  4. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father,
    Thank you for this. I needed to hear these words.

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s true. The advantage of monarchies for Christians, is that the common person has little or no power, and, therefore finds themselves with far more solidarity with the poor. It is of note that people without property were largely excluded from the right to vote in America’s early years. I think that the power of the middle class is, to a certain extent, a myth (the real power is with the real money), but a myth that is important for a variety of reasons. It is very difficult, however, for people to see how much of their lives are lived in a false myth. I think that Christ’s invitation to give up everything and come and follow Him was also a “wake-up call” (in which the person is literally being invited to wake up from the sleepy dreams of the world).

    When I was just out of high school, I worked a number of weeks in a local factory. There was an elderly black man who had been with the company from the beginning. He swept up and did very little, but he had a home spun wisdom that I recall. He said about politics (in a very thick dialect): “I remember the “Hoover Days.” They be 5 hunters chasin’ 1 rabbit. Bad for the hunter, bad for the rabbit. With Republicans, you starve. With Democrats, you get a bullet in your belly. I guess I rather die with a bullet rather than nothin’.”

    He had no idea of any choice other than bullets or starving. He was an interesting man.

  6. Alan Avatar

    Another outstanding post Father. I particularly loved this line: “For the wealthy, the door to power remains open regardless of party-affiliation.” So very true.
    Great comment Greg, thank you.

  7. Matthew W. Avatar

    I’ve always said that I come from a long line of serfs and peasants. That I am only the most recent in a long line of unremarkable and forgotten people upon whose backs western civilization was built.

    I always get odd looks when I say that.

    I also say that my dad was a dirt farmer. He was also a mechanic and many other things before he retired.

    I, myself am only a few months away from homelessness, were I ever to lose my job – and I am not looking forward to retirement in just a few years when I will really need to start counting those months.

    This is a hard time. I also think that if people were to be honest with themselves, the increasing fragility of the Middle Class would be overwhelming.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I read a bit of a book recently that suggested that we are returning to a form of economic feudalism – it had some dark thoughts for the middle class. Americans are, I think, deeply unaware of how much class issues color our culture. That which is “middle class,” if you’re a member of the middle class, doesn’t seem to be a product of your class but simply common sense. Having spent a bit of time within the lower class (Appalachia is filled with it), I can say that it is not at all common sense to the poor. Deconstructing middle class ideas in order to get past them and think about what is true, and real and good without employing that cultural figure is something I give a fair amount of time to, though I don’t always describe it that way.

    If you work through the ideas of modernity and strip them away, the middle class will go with them. I think much of what our culture thinks of as a “good person” is simply a middle class American (of whatever stripe). It is an embodiment of certain ideas and values that fit this culture like a glove. It can be as easily liberal as conservative, like two sides of the same coin. It is the gospel that has a hard time fitting into it rather than the other way around, which is why American Christianity quite often distorts the gospel in order to serve the desires of that class.

    On the other hand, time among the poor, in their churches, produces some very different takes on all of it. When I was in college, my fiancee (now my wife) used to go, from time to time, to this small store-front church where the Pentecostal preacher was a brick mason. He was the most amazing typological preacher I’d ever heard. He prepared my heart to later understand the Orthodox Fathers, though his types were largely end-time related. I didn’t know how to think about all of that back then. I just knew that I liked it.

    Sorry for the aside. I’m in that kind of mood tonight. The average American family, I’m told, is about $800 away from economic ruin. I can only imagine what the pandemic is doing to them. God help us all.

  9. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    I grew up in the Central Valley of CA.
    It is a rather poor rural area, surrounded by the prosperous coastal cities. Very few of the
    elite have ever been to Bakersfield or Fresno.
    My first church experiences were in a very poor pentecostal church. It was an old WWII barracks on stilts with an old wood stove for heat and open windows for summer ventilation. I grew up with that sense of wonderment you mention. We believed in a one-storey universe, that God could and did show His presence through daily interventions and miracles. Holy anointing oil was used as were cloths that had been placed on the “altar” to be later placed on the sick. I grew up with many simple folks (like you) who truly loved Jesus.
    We were quite poor, my dad raising 6 kids on minimum wage, 70 hour weeks common, but not as poor as those on the town’s outskirts who lived in tents. I know that my early background always made me feel comfortable around the working and lower class, my higher education having not jaundiced me. The early church experiences also drew my heart, over a long and bumpy road, toward Orthodoxy. And, oh yes, I still live in the backwaters of CA.

  10. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    Dear Father Stephen,
    This post, and your comment of 9:31, are full of really important and powerful points, and none of it seems to be in the public discussion at all. People are so distracted, spending all their passion on the wrong project.
    Like Matthew, I feel I am slipping out of the ‘middle class’. I at least have the blessing of a loving family, and a brother who is somewhat better off financially who has been able to help me in a couple of tight spots. I suppose that he will soon face his own tight spots.
    The paragraph beginning “If you work through the ideas of modernity and strip them away, the middle class will go with them” contains the seeds of many essays, and my mind has been sent down many paths, not all of them unexplored by me before now.
    To me this is one of your deepest and most penetrating essays/comments. Thank you for ‘speaking’ your thoughts here – so real, so very real and important.
    God help us all!

  11. Eric Avatar

    Having read this, I then passed to a news article about how the new parliament recently elected here (in New Zealand) is historically the most ‘representative and diverse’.

    What immediately struck me was that in a society with high levels of poverty (30-40% of the population are thus ‘classified’ ), none of the 120 ‘diverse and representative’ new legislators appear to be poor . . .

  12. Dino Avatar

    Thank you for another profound insight Father. I have often thought that there is a delusional interpretational prism that the truly poor must be quite free from. Middle classes and above need to strive against this at every turn.
    To be precise, the chosen global response to the current ‘pandemic’ (other suggested responses having been deliberately rejected), rather than the ‘pandemic’ itself, is what will shake things up much more now.
    Perhaps a far greater pandemic itself will shake things up a different way later too.
    The best thing for all however, is to remember that – despite all unjust global changes favouring the very few at the very top (while exploiting, bamboozling or oppressing the rest), – each and every person, is brought by God Himself into their respective context, time and place, as the perfect place for their own salvation and the salvation of those around them too (just like the Forerunner was put into his specific time and place to serve specific providential objectives). In every difficulty we can prepare rightly through such an internal, trustful and humble yet heroically responsible interpretational prism. As Dostoyevsky once said, it is such serious “Godwardness”, that doesn’t just add years to our life (like science does) but adds Life to our years.

  13. Hal Freeman Avatar
    Hal Freeman

    Very good reflections and observations, Fr. Stephen. I need to save this one.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you.” (Mt 26:11). I do not believe I have ever heard a homily on that verse. The commentary on it that sticks in my head tends to make the “poor” a symbol rather than real state often linking that to being “poor in spirit”. Of course “the poor” are always someone else.

    Shame, toxic shame about the word seems to be rampant making the actuality difficult.

    My wife has a relative by her first marriage who has an income of $450 a month social security.

    Modernity treats poverty like a disease and the poor like lepers.

    So how does one approach the reality of poverty without trying to make it something it is not so it does not have to be faced.

  15. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Eric you hit it right on the nail

  16. Xenia Avatar

    I have think about the poor a lot. I also think that if we saw ourselves as God and all the residents of God’s eternal kingdom must see us here on earth, we are all dirt poor. We, middle class, can put on our finest clothes and compared to what the Glory of God is, we are clothed in dirty rags, sitting by the side of the road begging for alms. When I look at humanity, I see us all in the same boat, some of us have houses, some have extra cash, some have food on the table daily, but each of us is in the same struggle to live out this life on earth. Most of the so-called poor that I know are much more interesting people than the middle class and the upper class. Their humility and perseverance make me hang my head in shame. To God we are all poor and in need of the Gospel. If we have more, we are obligated to give joyfully and to love. God, forgive us our sins against humility and selfishness and help us to help the economically poor among us.

  17. Allen Avatar

    An observation I made years ago as I was leaving the evangelical protestant world. As always, it was constantly dividing into various sects. But, by the last part of the 20th century and into the 21st century, most fit into two large groups. Either very small churches made up of the poor and lower middle class or rapidly growing mega churches made up of the upper middle class with teachings on how to maintain a middle class lifestyle. For the upper middle class churches, the most popular books were from Dave Ramsey on managing money, the radio station’s main sponsor in my town was ‘cosmetic dentistry’, and the sermons were on “How do be a better Dad in 5 easy steps”. By the time I left, I realized I hadn’t heard the cross or Christ preached in years.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We approach with deep thanksgiving for everything – taking everything as sheer gift and not an earned right. And, we approach the poor as the sacrament of Christ that they are. That is an occasion for wonder (not judgment) and co-suffering (not bending down to fix). And generosity. If you have money, then keep some cash available to distribute to those who ask – they’re on street corners. These “holy fools” will be asked to bear witness on judgment day.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My late wife spent some time as a street minister in San Francisco and Detroit. She wore clerics to make her visible. She knew the regulars and they knew her. One day she saw one of them approaching and beat him to the punch. She said, “hey I don’t have coffee money, you got a quarter? ” He started laughing said “You got me there sister! ” Reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of quarters and gave them to her.

    When she and her partner were in Detroit they networked with others who could help to bring resources and people together. She always stressed the need for discernment. Rarely gave money directly.

    So here in Wichita when I see several different men in widely dispersed locations who have identical cardboard signs with the message in quite similar marker and hand writing I wonder who is the holy fool.? Plus there have been documented scam networks here. To me these folks are stealing from the poor and me.

    Also the documented cases of folks pulling in substantial incomes tax free dressing as indigents by day going going home to nice houses at night.

    What level of discernment is appropriate? Or is there any? Is this where “Do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing” comes in?

    I have lived stretches where I have not been that far from the street myself and have lived in neighborhoods where many folks are close. It is really tough some days.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My wife just reminded me that there are poor around us everywhere. She listens and is frequently directed to give to those people. When she asks me I always say “Of course”.
    These come pre-verified.
    I have been blessed to share rhe lives of two remarkable women.

  21. Laura E. Wolfe Avatar

    Any chance you’d share the book you were reading about the return to economic feudalism? I’ve rarely been disappointed by your book recommendations… 🙂

  22. Dean Avatar

    I have traveled a lot through the Southwest. In these travels we have gone through many Native American reservations. There you can really see the marginalized, forgotten poor. Even the vast Navajo Nation is home to many suffering poor. Covid hit the reservation especially hard this past Spring
    Those who live in poverty is about 40%. About a fifth live in extreme poverty. Close to a third have no indoor plumbing or electricity. Almost 40% no running water. As with the inner-city poor and rural poor in America, they also suffer from addictions, metabolic syndrome, poor medical treatment, etc. It breaks my heart to see what we’ve done to native peoples in the last 150 years. Their once robust, proud, tight- knit, clan-based culture has been replaced by America’s ubiquitous base culture.
    And, Dee, thank you for the insights you have provided us from your own perspective of Native American culture.

  23. Dean Avatar

    I should not have said that their culture has been replaced by ours. But it has been highly encroached upon in many ways, usually with harmful effects.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, by Joel Kotkin. The author is a Left-wing writer, so I had to plow through that stuff to weigh his thoughts. I heard an interview with him and thought I’d give it a read. It’s not really on my recommend list – but it had some interesting thoughts.

  25. Byron Avatar

    What level of discernment is appropriate? Or is there any? Is this where “Do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing” comes in?

    Michael, perhaps. My priest once told me to give to them all. It doesn’t matter what they do with it. We give to shape our own heart, not to fix their issues or judge their motivations.

    I’ve found the same concerns in my heart that you voice about the honesty of those on the street corners. And I recall the person running the John 3:16 shelter here in Tulsa saying that the truly poor don’t beg on street corners; they’re too proud to do that. I try to ignore all of it and just keep a few dollars in my pocket to give away.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not find it useful to concern myself with who is scamming (and thus, who is deserving or not). Oddly, I think we are far more wary about someone ripping us off in the name of the poverty than with the many, many wealthy who rip us off all the time with impunity. It’s not my money, it’s not the poor’s money. It all belongs to God. There is not a commandment that I can think of that suggests that we be careful in our almsgiving. Just give. When you run out, God will give you more.

  27. Brandon Avatar

    Father, thank you. Perhaps “poor” generally speaking as opposed to “self-sufficient” as you alluded to, is the key attribute in being able to have the gospel properly preached to. One saint said something along the lines of “the rich are there to save the poor; the poor are there to save the rich.” It’s hard but not impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom, solely because he can be united with the poor in following the commandment of Christ. And so the poor in combination with the rich man who unites himself to the poor by uniting himself to Christ, together make up “the pure in heart” who are able to perceive God. Also to be noted that while better positioned to perceive the Kingdom, the poor man isn’t free from blindness either – the eye of the needle is just a bit bigger.

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dean, Hieromonk Pasius Altschul recently share a story that as he was leaving Mt. Athos after his time there after first being tonsured two of the senior monks came to him separately and told him to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee if he wanted to address the spiritual needs of America. Indeed, we have a great need of repentance and as the ministry of the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black, which Fr. Pasius co-founded grows it will begin to encompass Native Americans as well as Afro-Americas. The 19th century history of the United States offers great fruit for repentance, reconcilliation and restoration thereby the full expression of Orthodoxy here. I find such hope, the hope of Christ, in that work because only the Orthodox Church has the tools to actually bring the Spirit of Christ into that darkness.
    As a side benefit our sad preoccupation with being Greek, Russian, Slav or Lebanese will finally wither.
    God is good.

  29. SW Avatar

    Thank you, Dino!

  30. Dmitri Karamazov Avatar
    Dmitri Karamazov

    I went to a rural baptist college for a year in Eastern Kentucky. I wanted to become a baptist pastor then, but I dropped out for various reasons. One reason was the fact that the coal miners and hillbillies were neglected. I’ve never been in a church (baptist, reformed, Lutheran, or Orthodox) where I’ve seen any effort by anyone to preach to these people. I’ve never seen any Christian authority preach in front of their managers house demanding these people be given the day off on Sunday so they can worship. (This goes for all the pink collar workers in retail to this day as well.) Where’s the outrage? Where are the ministers of the world demanding the slave owners to close businesses for the day so their wage slaves can attend church? Even the small country Baptist church was filled with middle class white and blue collars folks. No poor folks though.

    I respectfully disagree that more poor people go to church than wealthy. Someone who says that probably hasn’t seen a poor person before and they are referring to the lower middle class perhaps. The poor don’t go to church because they are either working, or have been truly outcast to where they feel a deep shame of alienation, or they are actually being polite to the church goers by not attending. Real sins are hard to deal with and poor people with real sins are a little embarrassing to have in polite society. So they politely decline church attendance.

  31. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    I think that poor can more readily hear the Gospel in all its radicality because they literally have nothing to lose by embracing it. As God has slowly taken everything away from me, I have been forced to put all of my trust in Him. Ultimately, poverty has been the greatest gift I have ever received.

  32. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I frequently hear in conversations about the Kingdom of God and about ‘the poor’ someone who seems, by their tenor, to be in the middle class but wish describe themselves as poor. The response in my heart to such a voice is (for better or worse) a little less generous towards those who in their obviousness make such a claim.

    The sheer pressure in this culture toward acquisition seems to cast this self perception of poverty, because most of us can’t have all that is offered in advertisement. So we think ourselves as poor and along with that we might feel a little shame. And then we go about trying to fix this situation and to quibble about what poverty is.

  33. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Esmee, I should say my comment is not in response to yours.

  34. NSP Avatar


    When I read what you wrote about not being over-careful about being scammed when giving alms, I was reminded of this incident in the life of C.S. Lewis.

    On the way to an Inklings meeting, he [Lewis] gave some money to a street beggar, and I [Hooper] made the usual objection: “Won’t he just spend it on drink?” Lewis answered, “Yes, but if I kept it, so would I.”
    (as told by Walter Hooper)

    Ever since I read this incident a few years back, I have never felt uneasy about giving alms.

    Your post is timely. I was listening to one of Prof. Jordan Peterson’s lectures on his podcast a few days ago and he quoted a UN study in which he had been involved in some advisory capacity or something, and that study said that abject poverty had been halved in the last decade or so, and it could very well be eliminated in the near future. He discusses this in this interview. I was wondering what this could mean in the context of Our Lord’s statement that we would always have the poor with us. Later I found some other views quoted by listeners of Prof. Peterson’s lecture, arguing that the UN estimate was flawed. Perhaps even if a social state where abject poverty is eliminated could be reached in todays socioeconomic climate, it would probably be a metastable state that could only be precariously balanced subject to the continuation of several social and political factors which are themselves unstable. As long as sin exists in the hearts of men, I guess poverty will never truly be killed.


  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My observation regarding Church attendance is drawn from sociological surveys and seems to be an established fact. I’m not observing the poor from a distance. I’ll not go into my associations, but they are concrete and real. There’s much to be said – and I think you’re very accurate about the shame of alienation and such.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As odd as it sounds – I would think a state in which poverty had been eliminated would be some sort of strange dystopia (much like the one in Brave New World). Modernity promises to end suffering – and – that would actually make a worse world. Ultimately, the only way to end suffering is to kill people (and the modern state is making it easier and easier to do just that). Iceland was on the verge of “eliminating” Down’s Syndrome (because they were going to abort all such children). I suspect that what would be required to eliminate poverty would also involve some more sinister efforts on the part of the modern state. That the poor will be with us always is not an excuse to do nothing – but neither is it a caveat to do everything a state with total control could do.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Indeed Father such a state would be horrible. I remember the social disruption created by the Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. Here is an article that describes some of it:

    The worst part is that the more a project fails, the more it seems to get funded. It skews everything.

  38. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Someone of Facebook just shared this very pertinent quote that echos much of what has been said above…

    Let’s give to the poor liberally, generously. “Well, I don’t know what he’s going to do with that money.” Okay, do you think he doesn’t need it? “Well, he’s probably just going to go spend it on booze.” And you weren’t? Honestly? Give the old bum a drink. You think it’s easy being homeless? Do you? No, it’s not. So, be liberal with your treasure and with your time. ~ Fr. Photius Avant

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I had difficulties on Facebook regarding this article – at least a little. “Shaming” the poor is pretty much unbearable for me. Also got tangled up elsewhere. Boundaries are important in doing what I do (it would quickly become unbearable without them – unless I had skin like a Sherman tank which I don’t). I still have difficulties when I have to put them in place and cut something/someone off. Your remarks there were very helpful. God give us all grace!

  40. Laura E. Wolfe Avatar
    Laura E. Wolfe

    Thanks, Father! I’ll keep my stash of salt handy. 🙂

  41. Eric Avatar

    When we ‘are’ ‘self-sufficient’, we are not

    Life is always that which we receive, so self sufficiency is an oxymoron – I find it hard to listen to those who tell me they have ‘made a life for themselves’ – it sounds finally a terribly lonely existence. The less we have, the more we realise how much we receive, the more open we are to life and the word which gives life

  42. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Fr. Stephen, it has been a real struggle and process for me to stop blaming and shaming myself for my circumstances in life. And I have a less “reprehensible” reason for being where I am than many who find themselves homeless. My health prevents me from being “self-sufficient.” But why is this less morally abhorrent than someone who was born into a lousy family, or born with lousy brain chemistry? They had no more control over that than I have had over my health. I have had to be very careful myself not to be judgmental of other homeless people who are drug and alcohol addicts, as my inclination is always to see myself as not like them, as somehow less reprehensible because I am simply sick. I still want to see myself as “middle class” (smart, educated, cultured) and others who are homeless as “poor white trash.” These beliefs of ours are really incredibly insidious and very detrimental to our souls as Christians. I appreciate your persistence in pointing out how our thinking about ourselves and others has been co-opted by the narrative of Modernity and helping to guide us back to a true Christian understanding and perspective.

  43. Justin Edge Avatar
    Justin Edge

    Fr Stephen, Esmee:
    C.S.Lewis is reputed to have once been upbraided for giving a bum a bit of money: “Don’t you know he’ll squander it on a pint?” To which Lewis replied, “Well now, that’s how I was plotting to squander it myself.”
    As an aside, in my more avid zymurgist (beer-brewer) days, I have been known to stop and share a few bottles of the GOOD home-brew with folks who were, shall we say, “sans-home.” Occasionally I’d join them in partaking, if time permitted – right there on the side of the road. On one particularly memorable occasion the man declined my offer of money, producing a winning $2,000 lottery ticket he’d just purchased a few minutes prior to my arrival – he then offered ME money, LOL. Then the cops drove by and took an interest in us (I’m normally used to being “invisible” to them). On another occasion I had to mail a letter at 2am and encountered a guy sheltering from the 20 degree weather in the Post Office lobby. Since he didn’t have much in the way of warm clothes, I gave him a THICK wool Western-style Monastic Habit I had in the trunk. I’ll never forget the way he said through his chuckles, “Man, THAT’LL freak the cops out when they come to run me off!” If I didn’t have to work the next day I’d have hung around just to witness that, lol.

  44. Seth Avatar

    Thank you for the post – I found it quite helpful. It reminds me of a quote by Eugene Peterson:

    “The poor are not a problem to solve, but a people to join.”

  45. Michelle Garrison Avatar
    Michelle Garrison

    Your articles always seem to touch on those topics that I think about but few people put into the right words. You seem to have just the right words.
    While reading, I thought on my own connection to the needy. I am a schoolteacher in a low socioeconomic school. Middle class career, serving poor families. Working there has taught me more than most anything about God, society, and life. This pandemic especially brought to light for me that people in middle/upper class administration in my district are often truly blind to the plight of the poor and how to truly help even though they are the ones who often cry the loudest for equity. I saw them regularly make decisions supposedly for the safety of all, but it really only benefitted the middle/upper class. I realized that those of us who joined our students and families in the trenches through identification and self-sacrifice with them instead of in a mindset of pity and “we must help lift them up” were not so blind to the realities of what was needed in order to serve. I once asked God why He put me in such a difficult, dishonored teaching position, and though I don’t presume that this is just what He said, I felt like God responded, “Who else would want to do it?” However, I know that working with the poor may have ruined me for working anywhere else because through those kids and families, and the great coworkers with a heart for them, I’ve met God in very real ways. Going back to the world of “fakery” where so much has that superficial sheen upon it, that aura of “respectability”….I don’t know if I could go back to that.

  46. Dan Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    First off, thank you for this article. Much of this is absolutely absent from the general education and conversation of the middle class – which truthfully is all I know. However, I’d like to ask a question about poverty and the preaching of the Gospel. I mean no disrespect towards the poor, but does the phrase “the poor have the gospel preached to them” specifically allude to the materially poor (by that I do not mean to imply an exclusion of the poor, rather to question the exclusivity of materially poverty)?

    The great commission for the apostles to go to the ends of the earth and preach the gospel to all peoples would imply a universality of the gospel and the gospel message, not an exclusivity. I am not challenging the words of Christ that the poor have the gospel preached to them, but would it be incorrect to understand the poor as the spiritually poor? To see the poor as those held captive in slavery, true slavery which is sin, and sin which is death? In this context, the poor are all who have sinned, which is all of us regardless of class affiliation or economic status. And sin being death, then all have tasted death, and the dead are raised up.

    I don’t suggest this as a counter point, but as a question – would it be correct to see the poor in a broader sense as a reference to “the whole Adam” who has fallen into the abject poverty of sin? Am I misunderstanding the point?

    In this sense, bearing a little shame would seem to be recognizing one’s utter dependence upon God, and letting go of one’s tendency for self (self will, self sufficiency, self sustaining, self made and successful, etc), and to have compassion upon the poverty of all. I admit that success and wealth would be a great obstacle to this, because it would be strong “evidence” of one’s ability to achieve on one’s own. Whereas poverty would provide no such delusion.

    Thank you and I appreciate in advance your words and response.

  47. Stephen Avatar

    Father, I’ve been spending a lot of time watching your videos on Youtube. I think I’ve just about exhausted the list in fact and I’m very glad to have the massive backlog of your writings on here to go through. My father is a pastor (sort of baptist-like) and a truly devout God loving man so we have somewhat similar backgrounds in that regard. Very far from the tradition of Orthodoxy that’s for sure and I find you a very relatable first step into that world. I know I have a very long way to go in understanding any thing because I am an absolute dumpster fire fool of a man unworthy of any thing God has or will ever bless me with but I hope that this may be the beginning of a life that may bring some glory to God. Any way I just want to say thank you, you have already helped me just through the Youtube videos.

    Forgive my poorly written and rambling post
    Glory to God
    PS- That Dostoevsky passage at the end is absolutely beautiful. I’m not familiar with the book but the imagery of that scene makes me both laugh and brings a tear to my eye.

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    God give you grace!

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that the “poor” does indeed have a broader meaning – so much so that it is perhaps the case that anyone who “hears” the gospel must, in some manner, become poor in order to do so. That said, the material poor have something about them such that they rightly serve as a paradigm of that state of “salvation-capable” people. The shame aspect is probably a very good place to start thinking about what that paradigm looks like.

    “Bearing a little shame” (this is a phrase I use, having borrowed it from the teachings of St. Sophrony of Essex) breaks down pride and hardness of heart. If we stood truly “naked” before God, none of our wealth would count for anything – none of our pride or accomplishments – nothing. That nakedness would mean standing “just as I am” – without accomplishment or anything else to my name – just the nakedness of my self as God’s creature. Though such a thing would be frightening to some – it is, ultimately, the place we all must stand. Had we the courage to do so, we would also find it the place of unlimited love and acceptance – of beauty restored, wrapped in glory. St. Paul clearly saw that place, and, in its light, described everything that could be thought of as his own righteousness as “filthy rags.” Such liberty!

  50. Dan Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you. I think I can sit for a long time with simply the words you put in quotations. Hopefully, in time and with God’s grace those words can move from my head to my heart. In the meantime, thank you for your response and for your writings.

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I got a real taste of the humility it takes to share the Gospel with the poor in the presentation of Eddie Bocanegra at the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black.

    It was the most moving part of the conference for me. There is so much there.

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    When I was fresh out of seminary, I spent my Deacon’s year in Columbia, SC. My Rector and I did not mesh well and he insisted that I find some project to keep me busy, since I did not want to do what he had in mind (long story, that). As a result, I connected with these two, wonderfully radical Catholic nuns who always had their fingers in various things.

    In short order, we started South Carolina’s first Food Bank, with me as the “President” and “Founder.” They said we needed a man with a collar as a “front guy” since everybody knew them and ran in the other direction when they saw them coming. I gave about 40 hours a week to that project…which, 40 years down the road is a very large, thriving food bank.

    But the significant story in that comes in my encounter with one of Columbia’s richest citizens. He met privately with me and told me some of his life’s story, which including being hungry, drunk, and on the streets before his life got turned around. “I know what it is to be hungry,” he said.

    He then went on to say that I could ask him for any kind of help, money, etc., that we might need, only it was to remain private, not publicly known. He was a steady, quiet support throughout that year. I was deeply moved. I think he had true solidarity with the poor and did not seek to help as a rich man, but as a poor man who suddenly found himself with lots of money. His charities were many and largely anonymous.

    I’m sure he has sinced passed on, but I believe that “with Lazarus who once was poor” he found a hearty welcome at his death.

  53. Justin Avatar

    Fr Stephen: Your comment about standing naked before God touched a memory. I had to do just that very thing. On the way into Orthodoxy I had my first icon of Christ and I clearly sensed that I was supposed to get literally naked and just stand there – no words – in front of it. Of course I thought it would be easy – until I actually did it. I literally could no longer look Christ in the face. I felt just like Adam with apple smeared all over my mouth. Calling it “uncomfortable” is insufficient – the shame was nearly unbearable. It seemed to go on and on interminably forever. And then something gradually happened that I can’t describe or even identify – I suddenly realized that I had been standing face to face with Christ for awhile (the Icon seemed to have engulfed the whole room and taken me into it) without apple on my mouth or shame in my heart. About an hour later, when I and the Icon got separate again, putting on clothes felt extremely foreign and awkward (almost literally as if I’d never worn clothing before). Sorry if this sounds crazy, but there just aren’t words for these kind of things.

  54. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    Thank you P.Stephen for your uplifting work, your insight ….
    I particularly appreciate your comment to Dan yesterday at 9.47am.
    In one of his homilies, Saint Nicholas Velimirovich says that the little money that we put in the hand of a poor person, of a beggar, we put in a hand that has some drop of royal blood. Because his ancestors, in a closer or hundredth previous generation, could have been kings, while our own ancestors could have been beggars.
    It may even be that his ancestors were able to give alms to our own ancestors … We can address a poor person as if we were addressing an ancestor of royal lineage …
    We are all sons of kings , because everyone can find a king in his line … and that until Adam…
    So that our gaze on the next “poor” is very open and luminous and that we consider him as our own “brother” who grants us the grace to give him alms ….

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Helene, (I wish I knew how to make the little marks for your name!)
    I particularly like the meditation that I might well be returning something that, in a different generation, was given to me. I’ve long thought about the fact that those of us who are alive descended from those who survived long enough to have children and to raise them to an age of survival. We forget that the Black Death (and other plagues) have frequently swept through lands and killed as much as half the population. Those who survived did not do so because they were self-sufficient, but because others gave them aid.

    There is a village in Derbyshire in England, sometimes called the “Plague Village.” An individual received a parcel from London (in the 1600’s) that was infested with plague-bearing fleas. People began to be sick. In a short time the village came to the fateful decision to quarantine itself, letting no one come in and no one leave. In time, most of the village died, but they saved their part of England from the plague – it went no further.

    They left us no offspring – but they allowed others to do so – thus the lives of many who live today were made possible by these sacrifices. And, of course, that has gone on throughout history. It is simply the case that having had so much given to us – we, in turn, should give to others. All of life is a gift.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    A very interesting story/experience. It should be of note that in the early Church, adult candidates for Holy Baptism were baptized naked. It is the reason that examples of early Church buildings often have the Baptistry as a separate building – it was also a primary function of Deaconesses (the baptizing of women). My wife assures me that were this practice of adult nude baptisms to return, the wives of priests would immediate demand the return of Deaconesses as well…

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Just a thought: intriguing that in a age when provocative nudity is everywhere that innocent nudity is shocking and produces shame

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The dynamic, I think, is that the provocative nudity is not an act of vulnerability (in which the deep self is being made visible) but a using of sexuality to actually mask the deep self. It becomes, after a fashion, a kind of clothing. Thus when we say that someone has been “objectified” or has become a “sexual object” – their bodies are actually divorced from them – their deep self would actually get in the way of the object desired. Pornography is the destruction of the true self (and has become a toxic poison in our culture, destroying everything it touches – and it is touching almost everything).

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    So, Father, given the original definition of pornography as “writings images and objects about or having to do with prostitution we are ina culture that specializes in prostitution not only of the body but of the soul.

    That makes the giving of alms even more important

  60. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for having put in “perspective” the movement of giving, of sacrifice for life …
    May we live it deeply, where we are, in truth…

    (for the accents of the name, I think it’s the French keyboard that can do it…)

  61. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    For reference, I know that proselytes to Orthodox Judaism also immerse in water as a form of ‘baptism’. There may be a historical relationship but the meaning and resulting condition of the soul differs.

    Nevertheless, to this day the proselyte enters the “mikveh”, the waters of the sacrament, in the nude. .

  62. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Given this history, I presumed that St John the Forerunner and the apostles all baptized others who were unclothed. And I believe our Savior Jesus Christ was Himself was not clothed in His Baptism (nor was He clothed on the Cross as far as I know). But this is not represented in the icons out of modesty.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is this interesting passage in St. Mark’s gospel during Jesus’ arrest: “And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. (Mk 14:48-51)

    There has long been speculation that this young man was there to be baptized by the disciples, hence the lack of normal clothing. It has also been speculated that the young man is Mark himself.

  64. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman


  65. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I am amazed how such detail ever reveals more life In the scriptures!

    Thank you for that Father!

  66. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Dear Father Stephen,

    You may be able to find somewhere on the Internet a list of ASCII characters that are made with a combination of the ALT key and four numbers (using the keypad is easiest). For example, if I’m writing German I keep the ALT button pressed while typing 0223 in sequence, and up comes the German letter ß on the screen. You can write the vowels with the diacritical marks this way, too, along with other common symbols. Have a look around and see if you can find the list. (Mine is in a handbook for a very old version of WordPerfect.) Hélène’s French keyboard has them coded in already. ALT+0233=é and ALT+0232=è.

    Much love-

  67. Kassiani Avatar

    I long ago decided to stop pondering what people do with money I might give them. I do lots of “unworthy” things with the money I have at my disposal, so I don’t see it as a real issue. Sometimes I don’t have any cash to give, but I always say a prayer. Sometimes I have a dollar, sometimes twenty. Sometimes I’ve gotten food for people if it was convenient. (I’ll never forget the guy who lit up at a coffee—just like me in the morning!) I always say a prayer for the person, and try to look them in the eye. I will try to ask their name and offer mine. I try to touch their hands as I give and look in their faces. Basically, I realized that I was treating people who beg as a different kind of person from me and I decided to just treat them as normal people. I can do that whether or not I have cash on hand. It takes a surprising amount of discipline, which has taught me a lot about myself and my sin.

    Once I had to carry my screaming son out of a bookstore when he was having a meltdown, pulling my other children away from their shopping, drawing lots of attention. I had to hold him in the car in the parking lot while he writhed and screamed and hit me. There is a lot of shame one experiences when one has a child on the autism spectrum. He finally calmed down after what felt like eternity and I could leave without fear he’d try to jump out of the moving car. (He’d attempted this before.) As we were driving away from the mall, we encountered someone begging at the intersection where a long line of cars had built up at the light. I rolled down the window and gave the man what I could. We exchanged names and I offered to pray for him and asked for his prayers. I can’t describe the grace I felt and the love I felt when he said he’d pray for me. I was totally wrung out, face tear-stained, completely ashamed after yet another public meltdown and physical struggle. I was truly needy and God put another human in my path who would look at me and pray for me. I will never forget that.

  68. Ziton Avatar

    Father, I was thinking that you may find this recent article by William Shawn in the NY Review of Books interesting sort of around this topic.

    To the extent it is reasonable, unfortunately, the poor often seem to be recruits, or at least further collateral damage, in much of this destruction of virtue business that has been the long march of cultural change, and particularly in the latest most and most visible (and to my mind demonic) manifestations. I can’t help thinking about the imagery in the Book of Revelation about locusts with faces rising from the abyss ….

  69. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is much in that article to which I would take exception – I think his analysis of the president and his supporters is deeply mistaken and one-sided. I would have taken the article in a very different direction.

    That said, the “greatness” of our nation is, in many respects, part of our downfall. Our greatness is something that goes on all the time and every day. It is the many, many thousands of actions of kindness and generosity in the small things of life that are not uncommon – at least among some. I spent a day last week with a group of stone masons – who were doing work in my home. They were Appalachian workers. We talked all day as they worked. I heard about their families and friends – a bit of colorful histories and such. I also heard incredible acts of generosity towards family and friends – a “boss man” who finds things for his men to do even when the work is not there just so they can get a pay check. It is the generosity that is most common among the poor. I’ve seen it many times before.

    One of the workers (age 65) told me, “I’ve never voted in my life.” He added that if the president needed just one vote to put him over the top, then he would vote for him (he did not like Biden). But he clearly did not think it would come to that. I steered clear of politics most of the day. But this man would not fit the description in the article you’ve provided.

    Our downfall is, I think, failure to pay attention to little things and to take care of the simple, most important stuff. We have grand schemes and new moralities for fixing the world – our projects of management border on the demonic.

  70. William Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I’ve been reading many things lately about how it is our Christian “duty” to vote. It is my understanding that this confuses “rights” and “duties” and misses the fact that the exercise of a right is not always necessarily good–that it is sometimes better to refrain from exercising certain rights. Could you say something about an Orthodox approach to voting. Is it a duty to vote or is it okay to abstain?

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I answered this question earlier for Esmee on a different blog post. I’ll reprint it here:

    I do not believe that there is an Orthodox Christian “duty” to vote. There are any number of reasons someone might choose to vote, one of those being the lack of a clear conscience. Indeed, to urge someone to act against their conscience and choose an “evil” (because it is judged the lesser of two evils) is, I think, a sinful suggestion. There is a video circulating out there citing advice from St. Paisius, and another video from a monk urging people to vote. I’ve not watched them – but I think these videos – strangely – do not come at the behest of any of our hierarchs. They are “opinions.”

    America is not Greece – the advice of St. Paisios has a very different context. Political efforts in America are rooted in the passions – anger, resentment, fear, etc. – these same passions are the fuel of our consumerism and advertising reigns over it all.

    It is possible, I think, for someone to make an effort to vote in good conscience. I did this year, but my candidate was a write-in. I liked and agreed with his platform. I think the present system is deeply coercive and has driven Christians to make very damaged choices. The echo of those choices will continue in our hearts. It’s like killing in war. You can “justify” the killing, but you cannot walk away from it undamaged. This election will be deeply damaging for Christians (regardless of which way they vote). I suggested elsewhere that, if we vote, we should do so – weeping. Weeping that this was the best we could do – because it is a deeply sad commentary on the soul of our nation.

    But, if your conscience is unclear, then pay attention to it and stay home. And pray for the providence of God, by Whose mercies we may survive even this.

  72. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, thank you for your kindness, mercy and wisdom.

    I think there is a temptation in monastic life toward militancy. The dedication to God and the discipline of the Church can be misdirected into other avenues. If I am correct, then we need to pray for them right now as they pray for us. I imagine it can be quite seductive.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Duty of a Christian

    The Scripture has little to say about Christians and the governance of this world (of course, it was not exactly a democracy). But, a “duty” is an “ought” – something we are required to do. There are no commandments about voting.

    We are commanded to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:2). We are to obey the laws if they do not conflict with the commandments of Christ.

    “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13–17)

    This sums up what the Scriptures say on the matter. That’s it. To add to this is nothing more than opinion but cannot be expressed as “duty.” That creates a burden which God has not placed on us.

    More to the point, I think, is the “duty” of those who have authority. We say things like the “power of the government is derived from the will of the people.” That is not true. It is a modern secular theory. All authority is from God, plain and simple, no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Everyone who has authority, no matter how they came into that authority, must answer to God for what they do with it, and they are to be judged by God’s law.

    Hitler (I hate to use his example) could claim “authority” and to be democratically elected. To elect an evil person simply means that the people have become evil as well. But the people cannot, by their electing, authorize anyone to do contrary to God’s law. Everything contrary to God’s law is sin and death. If a people make a solemn pact with death through their choices, then it is on their head and will surely work death in their lives. It is already at work in their lives.

    There’s a lot of nonsense gets bandied about during election season – particularly in America where Christianity and patriotism get deeply confused. Vote your conscience, if you feel so inclined. But always know that you will give an account to God for every action. Keep the commandments of Christ – pray for those who have authority and obey them to the extent it is good. That’s our duty.

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I received some additional perspective on this topic from am unlikely source: the old British detective series “New Tricks”. The principles investigate old unsolved murder cases. The episode dealt with a 15 year old murder case of a homeless man. “A tramp” At the beginning they only have an old autopsy. They do not even know the victim’s name.
    During the course of the show to solve the crime they have to rehumanize the victim. In the process they are faced with many of the assumptions of “normal” people and their own biases.
    In the end they not only solve the murder of David but give his son a totally new understanding of his father and (possibly) restore his rightful inheritance.
    Romantic to be sure but it did show how easy it is to dehumanize others and some of the consequences.
    The more we recognize the humanity in others, regardless of circumstance, the more we become human ourselves.
    That episode is going to stick with me a long time.

  75. Niphon Avatar

    Father, I have read that it is mostly middle class people who “have religion” these days in America, and that the American lower classes have little to do with church or organized religion. Does that affect your thesis at all?

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I don’t know who made this observation. I would like to see what they mean by “religion.” I have rarely met a non-believer among the poor. I’ve met lots of “unchurched” folks among the poor. My thoughts are that what is “preached” these days is often a gospel of the middle class, which would inevitably have a way of excluding the poor.

    But, I also suspect that there’s lots of the poor who don’t even reach the radar of those who make surveys. I spent two years here in Appalachia as a hospice chaplain, primarily in the mountains among the poor. I recall sitting in shacks that hung of the side of a mountain that an Athonite hermit would have found inadequate. Inside, someone was scraping by, dying. Getting to know them, hear their stories, and serve them was one of the high points of my years of ministry. Often, their ministers were unpaid men who drove trucks or did other lesser skilled things to get by. They had no training, just the Scriptures. Some had wisdom worth hearing.

    BTW, I don’t think there is a “thesis” in the article – just an observation about the nature of the gospel.

  77. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father thank you for your story about your ministry to the poor who live in Appalachia. Very edifying.

  78. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, indeed. Much good theology comes from actual ministry..
    Experience with real people bracketed by the teachings of the Church and empowered by a Sacramental life. Quite Trinitarian and Incarnational.

  79. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Father and fellow readers, the 40 day memorial for my mom is coming up this Friday Nov 20th. If it is possible for you to add her to prayer lists for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord please do, her name is Camelia. Her brother Paul also recently passed away, and please add in her living sisters Alice and Pauline

    Years she and her sisters once had a discussion on when in their childhood they realized they were poor. I listened carefully. One cited a teacher stopping by their home early in the year and somehow seeing her check off the word poor. They all agreed that for a long time while young they hadn’t realized it

    In England the program I did had lots of students from Wheaton College. Day one of a seminar and discussion class the teacher asked for quotes from the Bible on Wisdom. They went to town, so many quotes I was amazed and I didn’t know them. Then after several minutes one dawned on me and I raised my hand and said ‘Doesn’t it say ‘He will overturn the wisdom of the wise?’ and that just stopped the conversation. It was a little miracle and that was the semester I really learned to depend on the Holy Spirit in new ways.

    This is really beautiful, Fr. Stephen. Thank you

    I do think people get a bit lost with the use of the word ‘talent’ and investing for God

    My wonderful Christian Mysticism teacher at a seminar at St Hilda’s told a story about levitation as an indicator of Holiness, and that it was always inspected closely. The story was that the person who was looking into the case walked into the room where a person was levitating and said with surprise ‘big feet’and that the person immediately fell. It was taken as a sign somehow of pride in that person, and somehow an indicator that the levitation was not holiness but a trick of the enemy. St. Anthony’s experience with the flying chariot of fire is also loosely related it seems. Thankfully he did the Sign of the Cross and it disappeared. It was a trick of the enemy. In the modern middle class world we are invited to ride a chariot of self satisfaction that we have done enough somehow, or ride a chariot to madness and despair that God is asking us to fix an economic mess with carefully laid plans rather than sharing as we can. It is such a trick

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