The Patronage of the Poor

I am currently reading through the « Life of Saint Kentigern » a 12th century account of the life of the patron saint of Glasgow, (also known as Saint Mungo).

At one period St Kentigern was being given a hard time by King Morken, an irascible, greedy and godless man, who refused Kentigern’s many pleas that he should help the poor in his kingdom.

All attempts to elicit support based upon Morken’s sense of Christian duty or feelings of common humanity having failed, St Kentigern tries a different tack.

He reminds the king that, in fact, it is the rich who need the patronage of the poor, not the other way around.

Kentigern’s logic is expressed as follows;

“…he taught that the poor were the patrons of the rich, by whose benefits they are sustained, and that the rich need the support of the poor, as the vines are supported by the elm”

Kentigern makes the strongly supported biblical case for the fact that the rich need the prayers and intercessions of the poor before God.

“He punishes them for their wickedness where everyone can see them, because they turned from following him and had no regard for any of his ways.
They caused the cry of the poor to come before him, so that he heard the cry of the needy.” (Job 34:26-28 NIV)

“Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court,
for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.” (Proverbs 22:22-24 NIV)

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:22 NIV)

God describes Himself as extremely concerned for social justice and very attentive to the prayers of the poor. Any cry they make towards Him, in response to their being oppressed and maltreated by the rich and powerful, is certain to be heard by Him.

So God exerts a kind of two-pronged spiritual counterbalance in society.

He firstly commands the rich to undertake their Christian duty of caring for the poor, the vulnerable, the unlucky and the under-privileged in society.

Secondly, God operates a kind of checks and balances system through a sensitive ear to any complaints of the poor regarding their treatment by the rich.

Given the potential of this approach to society God can well say to His people;

“There must be no poor people among you because God is going to bless you lavishly in this land that God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance, your very own land.” (Deuteronomy 15:4 The Message)

So, the very presence of poor people is an indictment to any society that they have failed to live up to God’s command and they therefore stand in danger of judgement.

Given the social realities of contemporary society, an increasing gap between the rich and poor, the requirement for food banks, a minimum wage that is only just about enough to enable basic survival, one might well fear for our situation.

If ever it was a smart move to show genuine concern for the poor and to try to earn their patronage, it is now.