It’s an election year and everyone has strong opinions. The problem with most opinions today is that they define the problem using one very limited example. Recently I responded to a tweet that attacked people by stating that if you think the problem with the poor is laziness then you have not met anyone who is poor. This is simply false since there are people whose problem is that they do not wish to work. Some of my favorite ‘lazy’ people include the person my sons worked with who thought the boss would not notice that he was not washing dishes when the boss was not looking. That the ever-growing pile of dishes might give him away never occurred to him. Another woman cleaned hotel rooms. She assumed she just needed to fold the toilet paper into a triangle and no one would know the difference. The management tried and tried to help her be successful. When people were watching she did a wonderful job, but when their backs were turned she folded the toilet tissue and left.
The Old Testament actually describes more than one type of poor person and gives us different instructions regarding how to deal with them.
First there is the ‘roosh.’ This person is poor because they make poor decisions. They will not listen when corrected, are lazy and make other poor people’s lives miserable. We are to feed these people, but because they ruin other people’s lives with their decisions they are also generally avoided.
The next type of poor person is the ‘dal.’ They are weak and cannot help themselves for some reason. Typically, this person’s situation is temporary and if given proper help they will do well. These are the people we are rewarded by God for helping. We are also cursed if we take advantage of them.
Another group of poor are the anav and aniy. They are the poor and needy. In the New Testament these are the people Jesus refers to when he gives instructions on how to treat the poor. These are the people who are poor because of a more permanent condition such as low IQ or severe disability. It can also be because of a more permanent situation like being an elderly widow with no family. They too are to be helped, and we are to be generous to them. They are the ones that the laws regarding gleaning were made for.
There are also a few other types of poor, which occur more briefly in scripture. They are the machcowr, a person who becomes poor because they spend recklessly on their own pleasure. He is best exemplified by the prodigal son. Remember, the son’s father did not send care packages, but did accept his son back fully when he returned in a repentant state.
Then there is the muwk. These are people who have made vows carelessly, or become in debt to the point of not being able to repay what they owe. They do have to work off the debt as a servant, but we are not to take advantage of them.
The ‘ebywon is a beggar. We are to treat him fairly. If we are doing things right there should be no beggars in our land.
The michen is poor through his own foolishness. All we are told about this man is that we are not to listen to his advice.
If we are ever going to truly help the poor we need to realize that there are many different reasons for being poor. Deciding that all of the poor are hard working people who just need a little help is just as destructive as deciding that all of the poor are lazy. It is just not true. Some people just need a little help and they will be fine. Others need education and wisdom. Still others have problems that may never be solved. And of course some are just unwilling to work. All of these situations require different solutions. Until we actually get to know the people we are helping we will not be very effective. The hard working poor will have a difficult time accepting help. The lazy poor will do all they can to gobble up the free stuff. And the people with lower IQs and other disabilities will fall through the cracks unless someone advocates for them. Just throwing money at the problem, or refusing to give any money is not the answer.
Photo by Matija Barrett