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.
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.
Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
It is only a cheap religion that turns this into “give money to the poor so that you can get rich.” Anyone who buys into that perversion of wisdom really impoverishes his or her own soul. And isn’t that the point?
If I give money to the poor with the thought that this will cause God to make me rich, I am not seeing the poor. For that matter, I am not seeing God, either. I’ve turned God into a giant cosmic slot machine that pays off a big win if I give to the poor.
These Proverbs are generally one liners without context. We can imagine. Giving to the poor does not diminish me because I have opened my life to humanity. When I hide my eyes so that I refuse to see the poor, I cut myself off from humanity. The saddest, hardest souls in the world are those who have cut themselves off from “the others” in humanity. Who are they, for us? Let’s open our eyes–and hearts and hands.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
I don’t know a single person who thinks that he/she oppresses a poor person. All three of my children have worked in minimum wage jobs while going to college, paying for shelter and food, and bracing themselves for student loans. We help them along, and they are not in the streets dying, but they have worked with people who were very near that.
When we write our names on that meal receipt and fill in the tip, how generous is it? When the discussion of raising minimum wage comes up, is our first reflex to worry about how much that is going to cost us, the consumer? How about laws that make it easier for convicted felons who have served their time to get jobs? Do we bank with corporations who practice redlining? We are privileged if we don’t know what redlining is. Check it out, here. Do we belong to any organization that keeps people of color, women, or members of the LGBTQ community out because of who they are?
Whoever oppresses the poor insults his Maker.