This past week brought the news that one in seven Americans is living at poverty levels. Children and older people, not unexpectedly, are among the hardest hit. Days later, the news is already beginning to fade as our attention-deficit society moves on to the next “shiny object.”
Combine that with the decades-long, growing disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots” (the rich have gotten a lot richer while just everybody else has gotten poorer), and one would think alarm bells would be sounding off in all corners of society. Wall Street and the big banks are flush with money, thanks to taxpayer-funded stimuli. Maybe those folks would rather just watch it pile up in their vaults and electronic accounts so it can be counted and recounted, rather than, you know, put it to work in society.
And yet, one of the biggest debating points in the current Congressional election is whether really rich people are getting–and will continue to get–a big enough tax cut. Apparently, one can’t be “too rich” after all. This time around “trickle-down economics” is cleverly disguised as “incentive for small business owners to create new jobs.” It’s still the same old shell game, though.
It’s as if everything is on hold until after the November election, then the way ahead will be clearer. Decisions, both bold and miniscule, will be made. But there always seems to be some “good” reason not to act in the present moment and put action off until some future time.
Millions remain unemployed, many with absolutely no hope that they will ever again work at a full-time job, much less one that pays a living wage. Families are kicked out of their homes because of foreclosure. People on the margins of society are forgotten first, perhaps because it’s easiest to pretend that “those people” are not like us. And besides, they probably did something to deserve their fate.
With that as a background I read Luke’s account of a wealthy man who encounters a beggar at the gate to his mansion—a story that ends with an amazing role reversal and a visit to hell. Meanwhile the writer of 1 Timothy reminds us how the love of money is the root of evil. Fortunately, I also read about Jeremiah’s response to what had to have been a far more desperate time in his day than today is for us. Imprisoned and waiting for the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem and his nation—a land inhabited by God’s “chosen people,” no less—so survivors can be carted off in captivity to Babylon.
And what is the word of the Lord to Jeremiah in such dire straits: Buy land he will never occupy. Secure a deed for future heirs. Heirs! Who can talk about such an absurdity when, obviously, all is lost. Hope must seem to be a perfect synonym for foolishness. But, of course, when viewed through God’s eyes it’s not.
Now is God’s time, whether for Luke’s beggar and wealthy man or Timothy’s small band of faithful believers, or Jeremiah’s beleagured people. The psalmist’s words for this week echo this truth.
Why should any of this make sense in human terms? Among other matters, it challenges us to redefine the whole concept of generosity, scarcity, and abundance. Once more, the Bible writers show us that things are not as they seem. The present reality is not the ultimate reality.
Jeremiah’s actions remind me of Martin Luther, whom it is reported once was asked what he would do if he knew the world was going to end the next day. His answer: He would plant a tree, of course. As a Christian people we should have hope like that, shouldn’t we?
Jeremiah participates in the hope he has. His very act helps create the future. We can call God’s people to envision God’s outrageous plans–that is the start of doing God’s work.
Jeremiah, however, is no Little Orphan Annie singing, “The Sun will come out tomorrow.” His hope is tinged with brutal honesty, yet all the while it begins and ends with God, with a promise voiced by Jesus of Nazareth: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”