Sophie and Jessica’s story can be used as a starting point for a discussion of what the Bible says about injustice, poverty, local differences in health, opportunity etc. The following Biblical passages link to the story and the notes can be used to stimulate thoughts and reflections. The highlighted phrases are taken from the story. One person reads the story aloud while everyone else listens then distribute a copy of the story with highlighted phrases.
Hand out the list of Bible verses to the group. One person leads the discussionby working throughthe discussion sheet with the group. Group members can take it in turns to read out the relevant Bible verses as you progress through the discussion.
Note: In the Bible, “the poor” refers to: the oppressed, the downtrodden, the humiliated, the powerless, the dispossessed, the destitute, the impoverished, the defenceless, the dependent and the needy - not just the economically disadvantaged.
Question: Using this wider view of the poor, where can we identify poor people (according to the Bible’s description) around us? Despite living in a house, having food to eat and going to school, is Sophie poor according to this description?
Their Father -
God has a personal, loving relationship with his children, like a father. Just as a human parent could not choose one child for preferential treatment, or a better life than the other, so God desires good for all of his creation. Good health, good food to eat, good relationships, good opportunities...
...both of them are valued higher than anything else –
God demonstrated the amazing love He has for all His children by sending Jesus to die.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
In this passage, God speaks through his prophet and refers to His people as His ‘treasured possession’. Other translations use the word ‘jewels’. Sophie and Jessica are both as precious as jewels to God.
“They will be mine, says the LORD Almighty, in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him” (Malachi 3:17)
He created each of them to be just like Him
Through reading the bible we see the nature of God. His nature is also revealed through prayer, through other people, through art... and in many other ways. We see in the Bible that God delighted in his creation, and that humans are made in his image. This is very significant as every encounter we have – with Sophie, Jessica or anyone else, brings us face-to-face with the image of God.
Question: Why is it sometimes difficult to see God in the people we meet?
He put them together according to his own design before they were even born
All humans are designed and created by God.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
...with abundant good things for them to share
God did not create the world with scarce resources – He is a God of abundance and plenty. He made enough for everyone, but people have not followed His way and there is huge injustice in the world. As we do not live according to God’s will, some people have plenty, whilst others struggle – globally this is a critical daily life-and-death struggle for billions, but even in our area we can see unequal distribution of resources.
“However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today...” (Deuteronomy 15:4-5)
...for them to live out their lives.
God’s plan is for all His children to live joyfully and to flourish. He wants us to have life in all its fullness.
Question: do Sophie and Jessica have this opportunity? Is it a matter of choice for them?
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
Their Father knows about their different journeys better than anyone else... [He] loves them more than anybody else.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31)
His heart is broken when he sees how Sophie has struggled with illness and depression, and He bursts with pride at her successes. He’s overjoyed to see Jessica fulfilling her potential...
We have a God who cares about suffering, who knows about each of us and the hardships we face.
“The LORD said, I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” (Exodus 3:7)
[He] is angry at the injustice...
There are many examples throughout the Old Testament of God’s anger at his people for not responding to the poor and oppressed around them. His anger often turns to punishment when people have allowed the marginalised to be exploited or neglected.
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place... But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.” (Jeremiah 22:3-5)
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)
...both designed to reflect Him to the people around them.
Understanding that all people are designed to reflect God to those around them gives us a fresh understanding of the intrinsic value of each person, as well as raising a challenge to us to reflect God’s nature in our own relationships and actions.
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Question: Do you think wealth/poverty makes it easier or harder to reflect God’s Glory in our lives?
...they both had so much to contribute to their local community...
Every person has different talents and abilities – we can all contribute to society generally, but also within the Body of Christ – the Church.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” (1 Corinthians 12: 4-6)
Paul wrote about the church as the Body of Christ – each part being interdependent and important, and if one part suffers, the whole Body suffers. If this metaphor is used as a paradigm for wider society, it raises important questions about our response to those around us.
“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, I don't need you! And the head cannot say to the feet, I don't need you! On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpreventable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:14-27)
Question: do we feel and act like one church, one body, locally? When parts of the Wirral are suffering, do we suffer together? What is our Christian response to some parts of Christ’s Body locally, thriving and living well, whilst some parts grow ill and die?
This is not fair, and their Father is angry.
There is social and personal sin creating these injustices.
[Unjust systems...] “trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.” (Amos 2:7)
We’re involved in this social sin by being part of the unjust systems, and so God says we’re responsible.
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Question: As Christians, how can we respond to the social and political systems which have led to such vast differences in the life expectancies of those in our area? Can we do anything about them?
He is asking those who hear Him today to do something to stop this injustice
The response to the suffering of others should be practical. Their suffering and the injustice they face requires a positive, practical response.
“When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.”(Deuteronomy 24:19-21)
If we do not act when we see and know about the injustice around us, can we truly say that we love God?
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)
Jesus subverted the world order – he honoured those that other people over-looked, he valued those on the margins of society.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”(Luke 1:52-3)
Jesus’ first public teaching outlines his commitment to poor, oppressed. His example throughout his life is concern for those at margins of society.
“ Copyright Life Expectancy Wirral 2014
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)