For Bible Study Nerds

“When you give to the needy…” Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. This simple introductory phrase is striking both for its assumption and its audience.

The audience first: We must remember that at the time Jesus sat down to deliver this teaching, he was speaking to two groups of people. Closest to him were a gathering of unnamed disciples, which undoubtedly included Peter, James, John, and Andrew, and may have included up to 72 others (see Matthew 10:1-4 and Luke 10:1-24). Ringing these disciples and listening in on Jesus’ teaching were “large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the region across the Jordan” (see Matthew 4:25 and 7:28). Knowing what we know of the demographics of Jesus’ disciples and the population of Israel at the time of Jesus, we can say with near certainty that these two groups of people represented pretty much every economic and social strata of the time: rich and poor, working class and unemployed, Jew, gentile and Samaritan, sick and healthy, young and old.

Second: With that enormously diverse audience in mind, it’s important to acknowledge Jesus’ assumptive obligation for everyone in the “large crowd” who heard his words:

When you give to the needy…” (italics mine).

Note that Jesus didn’t say “If you give” or “If you are rich enough to give” or “When you are not in need yourself and so you give…” or even a hypothetical “Suppose someday that you give to the needy…” He said “When you give.” His expectation was that every one of his hearers, regardless of economic or social status, was already engaged in the practice of regularly giving to the poor. (This expectation was also displayed in Luke’s gospel when Jesus commended a poverty-stricken widow for giving two minuscule coins; see Luke 21:1-4.)

Giving to the needy then, by Jesus’ standards, doesn’t appear to be a voluntary task. Nor does it seem to be a responsibility of only the wealthy. Nor an occasional option for when we feel we have surplus resources. The expectation here is obvious:

Christ’s followers are givers.

For them, giving is not out of the ordinary, not a special occasion. It is, instead, a normal, mundane part of life, expressed by constant preparation for new opportunities to give. Thus, those who follow Jesus are expected to be constantly ready to give to the needy, in big or small ways, as God provides.



About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

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