[Bruce] Longenecker’s careful analysis of the ambiguities surrounding Paul’s commitment to the care of the poor is not meant to challenge the general presumption that Paul and the early church in general did not assume that Christians had an obligation to care for the poor. Indeed, he argues that, though economic assistance to the poor was not exhaustive of the good news of Jesus, neither was it peripheral to that good news. “Care for the poor was thought by Paul to be a necessary hallmark of the corporate life of Jesus followers who lived in conformity with the good news of the early Jesus movement.”
I call attention to Longenecker’s account of the commitment to the poor by the early followers of Jesus to remind us of the commonplace presumption by Christians that we are a people of charity. We are supposed to care for those less well off. Almsgiving is constitutive of what it means to be a Christian. Yet how Christians have cared for those who have less has recently come under severe criticism. I want to explore that critique and hopefully provide a constructive response.
One of the reasons I am intent to address questions surrounding what it means to remember the poor – or, in other terms, why charity is at the heart of Christian living – is I do not think I have adequately dealt with the challenge that Christians must be a community of the poor that cares for the poor.