Biblical Welfare

"'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

It has become the popular to bash the concept of community welfare programs such as aid to dependent children, housing subsidies, head start, food stamps, or medicaid.  I believe that many well meaning Christian even think that the removal of such programs are the Godly thing to do, but they are confused.
 
When we look at the patterns set forth in the Bible for His people, we see built in systems of compassion and generosity.  God knew, and He knows, that there will always be those who are poor, disabled, and disenfranchised among his people.
 
In the Leviticus verse above, we see that God commanded the Israelites to make provisions in their crops for those who were poor.  Keep in mind, that this was an agriculturally based society, so their crops and livestock were the same as our paychecks today.  In essence, they were to set aside part of their income for the poor.  This is the pattern for the people of God.  It is confirmed in the Old and New Testament as well as the patterns of the early church.
 
A couple principles to consider:
 
1.Your wealth is not your own. The land of Israel was not considered theirs.  They were to use it knowing that it is God's.  The land's fruitfulness was to be considered as a tribute to God.  So, giving to the poor was good stewardship of God's land. 
 
2. God set up regulations to keep wealth equally distributed.  The people of God were to celebrate the year of jubilee every 50 years which cancelled all debts towards one another, returned all lands sold to the original families, and released anyone who had a debt of servitude.  The effect of this was to prohibit the perpetual poverty or excessive wealth that can develop.  We have nothing like that in our capitalistic economy.  We reward systems that allow perpetual poverty such as inequitable educational systems, imbalanced legal systems, and underfunding anti-poverty iniatives while allowing the rich to get richer.  We need to understand that justice in the Biblical sense is retributive (paying for crimes) and distributive (fair allocation of community resources).
 
3. The commands to serve the poor were not dependent upon the reasons for the poverty.  The poor who were lazy were taken care of just like the poor that were disabled.  In other words, the service to the poor was graceful.  It was not based upon the morality or work ethic of the poor.  It was felt that poverty in itself was shameful, so that the lifestyle of begging was sufficient to motivate people to want to work.  We get so caught up with stereotypes of people receiving $90 per month of food stamps but also having a expensive pair of shoes.  We spend so much time trying to figure out who qualifies for the few pennies that we are offering, that it misses the spirit of compassion in which Christians are supposed to give.
 
4.The giving to the poor was separate from the tithes to the Temple.  While part of the tithe was used for the poor, the command to leave your fields for the poor was an additional requirment.  This meant that not only did the temple have a mandate for the poor, but each individual as well.  It was both corporate and individual.  Today's Christians should be supporting their faith communities with its tithes as well as being generous to the poor around them.
 
Now, I am not saying the governmental programs have been run optimally, but I am saying that there is a strong Biblical mandate for welfare programming.  It is time to reassert this Biblical mandate and to make sure that these programs are not shunned while allowing for tax breaks and loop holes where the filthy rich pay less tax (by percentage) then the custodians cleaning their offices.
 
Take time to read scripture and allow it to form your thoughts regarding compassion and generosity.
 
May God bless you,
 
Pastor M Traylor