(Yes, a day late)
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Psalm 19 (The law revives the soul); Nehemiah 5:1-13 (Nehemiah deals with oppression); Luke 2:39-52 (Jesus increases in wisdom)
Economic justice is a tricky concept. As Nehemiah led the people when they returned to Jerusalem after the exile trouble arose. A famine hit the city. Some people had grain, others didn’t. Those who were poor sought to stay alive. They mortgaged their fields. Then, in desperation, they sold their children into slavery. As they grumbled about that need, soon the muted grumbles became an outcry that reached Nehemiah. Nehemiah wasn’t happy: Jews were holding Jewish slaves. It was the kind of thing that would make the Gentiles living in the lands around them attack.
“So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest!” (Nehemiah 5:9-10) Those in poverty had a number of problems. They didn’t have enough food. They traded their lands for food which meant that they had given up the means to pay back those loans. The loans, meanwhile, carried a high enough interest that it made payback impossible. (Yes, think of the ancient equivalent of payday loans.) Their only choice was slavery. Nehemiah rightly chastised the Jews over this issue. Economic Justice is still a tricky concept. While we have protections in place through our government today, those protections and other laws in place make it next to impossible for people to crawl out of poverty. We allow payday loans. When people are on government assistance, we take away incentives to get out of poverty. I could continue. We in the church must work to establish economic justice. Yes, God cares about that. Jesus didn’t die to free us from the oppression of our sins only to leave us and others in the economic oppression. Poverty may never be eliminated, but we must work to get rid of the structures that oppress those who are economically disadvantaged and keep them under the thumb of poverty.
Lord, I look on those in poverty and often turn my head. Make me aware of the needs of those who are suffering from economic injustice. Where I have sinned in this area, forgive me and help me repent. Give me the strength to speak about and work to abolish forces that perpetuate economic injustice.