Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Jeremiah 22:13-23, Romans 8:12-27, John 6:41-51
Many teachings of Jesus, especially about justice and mercy for those who are poor, echoed the words of the prophets before him. Consider these words from Jeremiah:
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages;
who says, “I will build myself a spacious house
with large upper rooms,”
and who cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar,
and painting it with vermilion […]
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
says the LORD.
But your eyes and heart
are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.
Fair wages. Dishonest gain. Excess ignoring need. Oppression. Social justice is inseparable – perhaps indistinguishable – from faith. Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul … these Biblical voices seem far less concerned with whether we hold other people accountable for their misdeeds than with whether we hold ourselves accountable for doing mercy and justice. Jeremiah’s audience probably thought their cedar-paneled wealth was a sign God favored them, when the opposite was true.
Lyn White of Animals Australia wrote: “The greatest ethical test that we’re ever going to face is the treatment of those who are at our mercy.” She was referring to animal cruelty, but this idea applies to people as well. If we are financially comfortable, lots of people are at the mercy of how we choose to use our resources. The pennies we save choosing cheap prices over fair labor practices; the time we spend evaluating the merit of the poor and needy rather than helping them; the violence we allow to continue because confronting it is inconvenient; Jeremiah could easily be addressing these sins today.
Only a couple more weeks remain in this Lenten season. Let us take time to reflect on how Jeremiah still speaks to us – not some general “us” but us personally.
Comfort: God craves justice for the poor and oppressed.
Challenge: Work on thinking of justice not as punishment for those who steal bread, but as contributing to a kingdom where no one goes hungry.
Prayer: God of Abundance, teach me to be generous with all I have, and stingy with my judgments. Amen.
Discussion: Would you pay more for something if the extra cost guaranteed someone would not go to bed hungry?
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