And he answered them,
“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none,
and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
My own response to those who need has changed over the years. When we didn’t have much and were raising three children, the first question was whether we could feed, house, and care for our children. We were always able to do that, but we didn’t always know that we would be able to do that. After that: would the money I did have to give be used well? I still ask that of an organization that wants my money. They need to show me that most of my money–almost all of my money–will reach those for whom it is intended.
Here’s what’s changed. These days when I meet someone begging for help, if I have money in my wallet, I give it to them. Period. I used to think that I needed to decide if they would use it well. I don’t have that kind of power. I do have the power of two things: giving and honoring human dignity. Beyond that, I am not responsible for what becomes of money I freely choose to give.
Two tunics. Food. Cash in my wallet. Share. Jesus said.
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom:
she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
People love to remember Sodom as going down for some sexual sin, but an observant fifth grader and a few minutes of thought reveal that that was not it at all. It was the problem of having plenty and not aiding the poor and needy.
Like the wealthiest nation on the earth with children who go hungry and even discussing that anyone in that land should go without good health care and medical attention. Much less wealthy nations than ours do that for all the people in their land.
Oh, but this must be it: we do take care of our poor and needy–just not those without legal documentation because they don’t belong here, anyway. Right?
Yes. That’s what Ezekiel meant: Sodom went down because they had plenty and didn’t take care of the poor and need with legal documentation.
No. They had plenty. They didn’t care for the poor and needy. Ezekiel says nothing about papers, and nothing about political party.
Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
When we vote, aren’t we opening our mouths, so to speak?
When we vote are we speaking for the rights of all who are destitute? (e.g. many undocumented immigrants are here out of sheer destitution)
When we vote aren’t we called upon to do so with judgments that are righteous (that is, which pertain to the rights and needs of all beings)?
When we vote, are we defending the rights of the poor and needy?
Some forgotten wisdom here that we might want to take to the voting booth–next time.
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
This seems kind of harsh. If you don’t like your neighbor, you are a sinner. Despising is probably a little stronger than not liking–rather like looking down on one’s neighbor. Doing so makes you a sinner. What if the neighbor has behaved in a way that deserves this personal judgment? The rest of this short verse leaves me thinking that we are asking the wrong question.
The questions are not: what if my neighbor has been bad–why does that make me a sinner? It’s really: who is my neighbor?
The poor are not only those who lack money but who lack anything they need to live a whole life. At any give moment, I might be “the poor” one, or you might be “the poor” one.
Blessed is the one who is generous to “the poor.”
What if our neighbor is simply the next one we encounter who is “the poor?”
A righteous person knows the rights of the poor; a wicked person does not understand such knowledge.
This ancient piece of wisdom is straightforward and clear. In the context of ancient Israel, it meant that the poor were to be taken care of–no attitude or feeling about the poor mattered. The poor were the obligation of the Israelite to care for. A righteous Israelite knew what they were supposed to DO. Providing for the poor was simply part of the faithful life.
“The poor don’t deserve it. They are lazy. They have screwed up their lives, why should I do anything about it? Lazy people are just draining my money from me. They have a cell phone (or other object) and I’m supposed to pay for their food stamps? You know they sell those food stamps for drugs, right?”
That’s what modern Americans often say about the poor. Many of them are Christians. They have forgotten the wisdom of their Holy Book.
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Who has a right to adequate health care? Anyone? Everyone? Only those who can afford it? Who has a right to food, shelter and water? Who has a right to basic respect? Who has a right to a decent education, to learn to read? Anyone? Everyone? No one? Only those who can afford it?
The Psalmist asks in this prayer that the weak receive what they have a right to, that those afflicted and destitute, those without parents to care for them (fatherless also means without an inheritance) be protected from the wicked. The wicked–who don’t care for the poor, the needy, the destitute and those who don’t have enough to live on.
This is not ancient Israel, but we still have the needy, weak, destitute and those without enough to live on. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it–all this talk about cutting health care, medicare, medicaid, food stamps and none of this being a right. Or, maybe it doesn’t make you think.
For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall. Isaiah 25:4
“I don’t believe health care is a right. It’s a responsibility. The Democrats and Obama feel it’s a right and the federal government has a right to be involved in your health insurance. So that’s where I come from. This whole notion that the government can run a health insurance is doomed to failure in the first place.” Former House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay
We have two different messages from two different times to two different communities facing a similar problem: what to do with the poor. The prophet Isaiah spoke with the authority of seeing things the way they could be, where the whole community as a body acted as a stronghold to the poor, needy and those in distress, where the whole of society became safe shelter in contrast to the ruthless who were like a storm beating against a wall. Make no mistake. The ancient Jewish society to which he spoke had their ruthless, and the prophet was calling them to a different vision.
American leaders, like Tom DeLay, have a vision, too. They like to propose that health care is simply each individual’s personal responsibility knowing full well that the average American cannot pay for his/her health care without the power of the collective. He is ruthless, a storm blowing against a wall. In his view, there is no shelter, no stronghold
You know which is the right way.
You shall give to the poor freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land. Deuteronomy 15:10-11
There may be no clearer declaration of what it means to be “God’s people” than this statement. It means an ungrudging openness of heart, mind and means to the poor. It recognizes that poverty, at least in the eyes of the writer of these words, has no foreseeable end.
Even if we might imagine ways to ultimately eradicate poverty, we are not there yet, and being tuned in to Divine Wisdom asks us for this:
Open minds. Open hearts. And the willingness to give.
To the poor.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, … Matthew 25:31-46
The rest of the story, of course, is that the Son of Man dismisses those on his left because they did none of these things: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger. He says to them that because they did not do these things to the very least–they also did not do it to him. He does not know them.
The meaning of a faith filled life, the meaning of the spiritual path, the meaning of salvation is really this: how do we treat people, especially those in need? If you insist that the United States is a nation founded on Judeo-Christian teachings, how is it that this one has been so severely ripped from our social and political fabric?
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.
This short wisdom teaching focuses on how we see things. The wisdom is not directed at “all ya’ll who have a lot of money” although it certainly includes them. It really asks us to consider how we see things.
Do you have a bountiful eye? Years ago, there was a knock at our door one winter night. We lived in downtown Birmingham. There stood a young man and woman. They said that they lived just down the street. They had a baby. Their food stamps had run out. Could we help? We had no cash. We almost never had cash in the child raising years. We asked them to wait a minute, and they did. We had a bag of potatoes, some canned vegetables, and a bag of diapers not yet opened. Sharing bread. If your eye is bountiful, you can find some bread to share.
That bountiful eye can be cast on how we do community and how we do government. Collectively, we all have a lot more bread to share than any one of us has alone.