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.