For the Poor, the Widow, and the Orphan: Lessons from Christian History

Cappadocian fathers

We don’t like these words. They seem discriminatory at their very root. When we call someone poor, it is nearly considered a sin worthy of shame in the West. When we call someone a widow, it is merely a name that reminds the woman in question that her husband has died. When we say orphan, it reminds the child in question that their mother and father have abandoned them in one form or another. But this ought not to be so. As Christians, many of us have been the poor (and still are), many women have been abandoned by their husbands only to become single mothers trying to raise children by themselves, and all of us, at least spiritually, were at one time orphans completely separated from our heavenly Father by our depravity.

Why is it that we must take care of the poor, the widow, and orphans? It is at the very core of the gospel to minister to those who cannot repay you. After all, isn’t this the very nature of God’s grace through Christ to us? It is a poor personal and financial decision to invest either emotionally or monetarily in someone who is helpless. Maybe this is why the affluent West has forgotten to make this a priority; the consequence is that we become distant from the nature of the grace we ourselves have been given; which we can never repay and which was more costly than we can ever know.

There are characters from the history of the church that made taking care of the less fortunate a priority in their lives. Basil the Great (329-379 A.D.) once wrote:
“If one who takes the clothing off another is called a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so? The bread that you withhold belongs to the poor; the cape that you hide in your chest belongs to the naked; the shoes rotting in your house belong to those who must go unshod.”

Another saint of the past had acquired great wealth as a professional jeweler for the king of France himself; he is known today as St. Eligius (588 – 1 December 660 A.D.). He was known, not for his preaching as much as his care for the poor. At one point, a man came into Paris looking for the house of Eligius. The man was told to go to a certain street and that when he came to that street that he should look for the house with all of the poor crowding around out front. That was the house of Eligius.

As Christians, what question should we be asking? Is it, “How do I make more money so that I can get more of the stuff I want?” Because the question we should really be asking, “How do I make more money so that I can give more away?” The helping of the poor is all throughout Scripture and the earliest Christians made it their routine to be charitable to the needy in their local communities and assemblies. I leave you, the reader with this one thought to reflect on, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” Proverbs 19:17