‘Always With Us’ book study considers what Jesus really said about the poor

By Anna Lisa Gross

One sentence from the Gospels is used to justify poverty–but is that what Jesus meant in the story of the woman anointing him? About 20 Brethren and non-Brethren spent 10 weeks studying scripture and the book Always With Us? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor by Liz Theoharis, exploring Jesus’ context, and what position Jesus held in his own society. (Spoiler: he was poor.)

This group of ministers and laypeople learned about the Jubilee Code laid out in Deuteronomy, and considered what it would look like to follow Jubilee Economics today.

Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis, via Wikimedia Commons

A quote from Martin Luther King Jr. guided this study: “A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar…. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

What opportunities do we have to transform the “Jericho road” in our own communities?

Many participants report the study gave them a clear sense of the need for transformational structural change, rather than solely participating in charity efforts. The book study included set-aside weeks for Action Groups, assigned regionally, for participants from Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kenya. Most participants learned about the book study through the Poor People’s Campaign and/or On Earth Peace. The study was led by Heidi Gross of First Church of the Brethren, Chicago, Ill.; Bev Eikenberry of Manchester Church of the Brethren, North Manchester, Ind.; and Anna Lisa Gross of Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren, Fort Wayne, Ind.

These participants appreciated that Zoom technology made the study possible, and enjoyed exploring polls, breakout rooms, and “chat waterfalls.” The group often meditated on the image of Jesus sleeping on a park bench (a statue that has appeared in more than 20 cities throughout the world). The group hopes, prays, and intends to be part of bringing about what Jesus preached–an end to poverty. Then, those sleeping on park benches will do so by choice, not by necessity!

– Anna Lisa Gross is a pastor at Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind.


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