Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 23, 2005
Social justice fills Bible's pages
Mouthing the Bible's words does not feed a hungry inner city child
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Jim Wallis, a prophetic evangelical Christian, tells the story from his seminary days about his distress that many believers consistently miss a central theme of the Scriptures.
A group of eager first year seminarians did a thorough study to find every verse in the Bible that dealt with the poor. They found several thousand references to poor people, to wealth and poverty, to injustice and oppression and to what the response of God's people was to be.
One member of the group took an old Bible and a pair of scissors and began the long process of literally cutting out every single biblical text about the poor.
The prophets were simply decimated. The famous refrain from Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream," was cut out.
Isaiah's question, "Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undue the thongs of the yoke, and let the oppressed go free?" had to go.
Micah's call to "Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God" was eliminated.
Much of the psalms, those sections describing God as defender and deliverer of the oppressed, disappeared, as did references to the Hebrew tradition of jubilee.
The thankful Magnificat prayer of Mary didn't survive the cut: "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."
The Nazareth manifesto of Jesus, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
"He has sent me to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour," had to expunged.
The Sermon on the Mount, and especially the Beatitudes, were deemed to be too upsetting. Imagine saying that the blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted and those who hunger and thirst for justice!
Matthew 25, the Last Judgment scene, and that part about "As long as you did it to the least of my brothers" had to be excised.
Of course, the slashing affected Acts and the practice of economic sharing: "There was not a needy person among them."
Even Paul's collection since it was encouraging economic redistribution had to go. James with his doctrine about position in the community and "faith without works" had to be snipped; as did all that stuff from John about not having the love of God in you unless you opened your heart to the needy.
When the zealous seminarian was done with all his editorial cuts, the old Bible would hardly hold together. It was literally falling apart. What had been created was a "Bible full of holes."
We tend to do the same thing.
The Scriptures repeatedly tell how nations, rulers and all of us are to treat the poor but we just don't seem to get it.
We just don't get it
People can really love the Bible, base their lives on it, and yet completely miss some of its most central themes. The Scriptures repeatedly tell how nations, rulers and all of us are to treat the poor but we just don't seem to get it.
We tend to take the comment of Jesus, "The poor you will always have with you," as a fatalistic insight or an excuse rather than as an expression of the disciples continuing proximity to the poor. We don't see assistance rendered to the poor as a primordial option.
The poor are not those we identify with, spend our time and share our resources with.
Our provincial government recently announced that Albertans receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) will get up to $100 more each month starting April 1, 2005, and an additional $50 per month starting next year to bring their monthly living allowance to a maximum of $1,000.
After much discussion re the impact on small businesses, but not on whether a person could live on such a level of subsistence, the Government of Alberta also announced that the minimum wage, currently $5.90 an hour, will be raised to $7 an hour on Sept. 1.
80 hours a week
Never mind that a single parent earning the current minimum wage and supporting one child must work over 80 hours a week to earn the Low Income Cut-off for a two person family ($24,745 annual income).
Never mind that the average hourly wage Albertans make is $18.55 an hour.
Never mind that 26,480 Calgary families live just above the LICO.
Two thirds of Alberta's "poor families" have incomes less than 75 per cent of the LICO, while more than one third have an income of less than half of LICO.
Never mind that 14.8 per cent of Calgary children lived in poverty in 2002, up from 11.1 per cent in 2001.
"Now the woman was a Gentile, by birth a Syro-Phoenician, and she begged him to drive the devil out of her daughter. And he said to her, 'The children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to little dogs.'
" But she spoke up. 'Ah yes, sir,' she replied, 'but little dogs under the table eat the scraps from the children. And he said to her, 'For saying this you may go home happy."
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