In prison, I come to the lowest level of poverty. I possess nothing, which makes me look in a new light at this verse: “Do not rob the poor because he is poor, nor oppress the afflicted at the gate” (Proverbs 22:22). Do not rob the poor of his only wealth, that precious jewel, poverty itself. St. Francis of Assisi spoke about sorella poverta, sister poverty. Ascetics and saints of all ages have abandoned earthly joys for this valuable friend. Moses preferred the poor life of a pastor to being grandson of Pharaoh. Christ, possessor of heaven, chose birth in a stable, life as a carpenter among oppressed people, and death among thieves on a cross. He said, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). By what right do I take away the source of a man’s blessedness? If I deprive him of poverty, I may deprive him of the kingdom of heaven. Imagine how it would have been had the rich man of the parable (Luke 16:19–31) been what is usually called goodhearted and divided with poor Lazarus his purple robes and fine linen, and invited him to dine sumptuously with him every day. He would have called Lazarus into future hell. Poverty of the soul is the entryway to the kingdom of heaven. The ugly embryonic stage when we look like frogs is the prologue to manhood. Destroy a caterpillar because it is a repugnant worm and you will have destroyed the future butterfly. Taking away a man’s poverty, we take from him the source of eternal happiness. But must we not help the poor? We surely must—by sharing his poverty, by demonstrating our regard for his high estate. Mother Theresa of Calcutta set an example. By our sharing the experience of his poverty, a poor man is given the sense of his dignity before God and other men, whereas a few pennies thrown to him degrade him. We commonly confound the unpleasant with the bad. Poverty is unpleasant, but it is a Christian’s trial of love. What girl is not seduced into admiring a handsome boy who offers her rings and bracelets and cars and castles? Would she choose to live with that same young man in a humble cottage?
It was easy for Job to love God with his family and cattle and gold secure. But what was the nature of his love? A trial had to be made in order to strengthen Job’s faith. Before I went to prison, my own social and material situation was very comfortable. In moments of self-examination, I asked myself whether I really loved God or loved rather the many outward and inner gifts with which He had endowed me. Then, in solitary confinement, hungry, trembling for cold, without even shoes—then I could really check whether I loved God or His gifts. How I rejoice to discover that songs of praise flew from my lips under those circumstances! My faith had been tried. Christians do not fear hunger and would not readily rob the poor man of this experience. For Jesus says even to the rich, who are familiar with black caviar and other dainties, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (John 4:32). The angel Raphael supposedly said to Tobit in the apocryphal book of this name (12:19), “It seemed, truly, as if I ate and drank with you. But I used an invisible meat and a beverage which men cannot see.” The meat of the angels, of which men also can partake, consists in seeing God, in loving Him even in times of affliction, and in doing His will in all things. You cannot sit luxuriously in restaurants, listening to jazz music, being served by half-naked waitresses, and eating from an endless menu, and at the same time participate at the heavenly banquet. No one can have both worlds. Heavenly food is reserved for those who are hungry. Kierkegaard spoke truly when he said, “To represent a man who by preaching Christianity has attained and enjoyed in the greatest measure all possible worldly goods and enjoyments, to represent him as a witness to the truth is as ridiculous as to talk about a maiden who is surrounded by her numerous troop of children” (Attack Against Christendom). After years of preaching, a pastor should be poorer than before he began his ministry. Our God is that of the narrow gate and of the needle’s eye. If, Cries of Truth from Behind the Iron Curtain 19 because of your social position you are not among the hungry, this is a simple matter to remedy: you can fast. But do not rob the poor of poverty. Do not rob the hungry of heavenly manna. Your well intentioned acts of philanthropy can be robberies.
– BY RICHARD WURMBRAND, TAKEN FROM THE BOOK 100 PRISON MEDITATIONS