“Only they asked me to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”The Apostle Paul
Yesterday I was reading Galatians 2. Paul’s explaining to the believers in Galatia how he started out in his work as an apostle, and he’s storying for them an interaction he and Barnabas had with some of the original apostles in Jerusalem who had walked with Jesus, and (more to the point) who had stewarded the burgeoning Jesus movement thus far. In this interaction, the original apostles recognize the hand of God on Paul, and on his sense of calling to the many, many nations who were not Jewish, and they agree to bless him and his work.
Handing over responsibility and authority, but with a caveat
They had one caveat, though, and that caught my attention. As an apostolic worker myself, I understand the sense of responsibility and concern that comes with desiring to see the gospel transmitted whole and entire from culture to culture, and from generation to generation. Yesterday, as I read Paul’s account of that interaction, I realized I was witnessing an apostolic community hand off some responsibility and some authority to transmit the Jesus Way over barriers, and with it an expression of something they thought was of such importance, of such intrinsic defining value, that they made sure to explicitly mention it and ask that attention be paid to it.
“Yes, you can borrow the car, just make sure you buckle up and obey the speed limit.”
“Yes, you can marry my daughter, just know she’s precious to me, and make sure you treat her right.”
“Yes, you can carry the gospel to the Gentiles just as if you were one of us, just make sure you…”
What would you say next? Think about the tradition you grew up in, if you grew up in the church. What would leaders in that tradition say, if they only got one shot at saying what they thought was the most important aspect of the gospel?
The original apostles said, “Remember the poor,” and Paul said, “That’s just what I was thinking.”
Why this one caveat?
What does that mean? Remember to preach to the poor? To care for the poor? To teach disciples to preferentially look after the poor? To train churches to address poverty by addressing the poor?
Probably all of that. Even more interesting to me is this question. What was their understanding of the Jesus Way, and of the gospel, that focusing on the poor was understood to be so absolutely, definingly central to the Jesus Way that to fail to remember it would be to lose the Way entirely? And do we view the gospel as something that demands, definitionally, that we remember the poor lest we violate the message and its mission?
I need to think about this more. Not because I don’t already care about the poor, but because what if my view of the gospel, which I have been refining for 30 years, needs refinement? Wouldn’t that be exciting, and where might that adventure take me?
For now, let me ask you today to remember the poor.