Monday, March 20, 2006

"There will be no poor among you."

Deuteronomy 15:4

That is too simple and declarative a statement to be left bare; when I get home, I should look it up and give it more context. But a clearer, more definitive statement of what we now call "economic justice," it would be harder to find in the Old Testament. Nor can I think of a better one sentence refutation of the proof-texted notion of the "god" of the "Old Testament" being a vengeful and blood-thirsty god.

But for now, that verse, and this observation from Martin Luther on the 7th commandment ("Thou shalt not steal") will be enough:

For to steal is nothing else than to get possession of another's property wrongfully, which briefly comprehends all kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor. To steal is to signify not only to empty our neighbor's coffer and pockets, but to be grasping in the marketplace wherever there is trading or taking and giving of money for merchandise or labor. Therefore they are also called swivel-chair robbers, land- and highway-robbers, not pick-locks and sneak-thieves who snatch away the ready cash, but who sit on the chair [at home] and are styled great noblemen, and honorable, pious citizens, and yet rob and steal under a good pretext.

No more shall all the rest prosper who change the open free market into a carrion-pit of extortion and a den of robbery, where the poor are daily overcharged, new burdens and high prices are imposed, and evey one uses the market according to his caprice, and is even defiant and brags as though it were his fair privilege and right to sell his good for as high a price as he please, and no one had a right to say a word against it.
It is said that Jesus chased the moneychangers from the temple, and lashed the vendors out, not because of what they were doing per se, but because they were cheating the poor, the pilgrims who, like Jesus, came to Jerusalem for passover with little or nothing, and paid exorbitant fees to change their few coins from Roman coins (with the blasphemous human image of Caesar on them) to "temple coins" acceptable under the law; or, if they bought an animal for sacrifice, paid high fees in order to offer worship to God. It is also said that it was this act which led directly to his crucifixion.

Martin Luther lived for many years under the protection of the wealthy in Germany, when the Catholic church literally sought his life. Imagine any of our comfortable, popular, and wealthy preachers today writing those words for publication. Imagine almost any preacher in any congregation, large or small, preaching those words from the pulpit. Almost 500 years old, and they still sound radical.

I found them in: Getting on Message: Challenging the Christian Right from the Heart of the Gospel, ed. Rev. Peter Laarman. The essay is "Honoring Those Who Work" by Alexia Salvaterria. There are essays here by Bill McKibben (who echoes Luther's Christian focus on neighbors, and contrasts that with the "mega-church" American emphasis on self); and by Joan Chittester; and by many others I don't know, but hope to know more about, soon.

Right after I renew my acquaintance with Deuteronomy.

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