Lest He Cry Against You - Deuteronomy 25:10-22

We are hard-wired to feel compassion on an individual level. We see needs around us and are moved to offer a meal, a pair of shoes, a shirt, a pair of pants, a coat, or a sleeping bag and willingly offer them to meet an individual's need. At least momentary needs within our grasp are elements we readily and willingly address. In so doing we often fail to address the larger issues that bring people to those conditions from which they may seek escape and the comfort of our band-aid compassion.
The Bible is an ethical document in many respects. It is a compilation of ethical documents that are religious but advance very specific ethical teachings. We can't say the Bible is always consistent, for it includes various streams of thought which come from diverse traditions within the bounds of a Yahwistic faith. What we find ourselves having to do is read these various streams of doctrine, ethics, and tradition to determine the higher standard among them and so apply that to our lives.
Christianity has taken the person and teachings of Jesus as espousing the central and highest tenets of faith, ethics, and an understanding of God's will. At times this means that Jesus offers a correction to a lesser stance from one of those streams of tradition. At other times we find that Jesus actually builds upon a stream of understanding he finds and accepts as very consistent with his own ethical and moral code. Today's passage in Deuteronomy is one such stream of understanding. Amid its faults, it calls us to an honest approach toward recognizing and accepting the needs of a vulnerable population, doing our best to see their needs and concerns as we would our own.
This passage of Deuteronomy was not written to the entirety of the nation. As with many of the laws of the Torah, it was written with a more specific audience in mind. These laws were given to the upper crust of Israelite society. They were directed to the landholders, the wealthy, the people who had the means and position to enact justice, enforce contracts, and control the agricultural use of the land. The words of each command are directed specifically to those who held power and the economic keys of wealth and wealth creation. They were the ones being charged and the ones who would be held to account for economic and judicial actions taken in regard to the underclasses in Israel, including the poor, the immigrants, and the otherwise disenfranchised. They would be held to account, for they were the ones making the day to day decisions that impacted those without power.
It is often difficult for us to appropriate and apply the legal strictures of the Torah commands to our own society, for we are no longer an agrarian, semi-nomadic herdsman economy. These laws were directed specifically toward the economic structure of life built around crops, fields, and herds of animals. They were designed for direct application within a nation whose wealth production depended completely upon the control of agricultural lands. For that reason, there is often no one-to-one correspondence with a specific law from a context so remote from our own. Instead, we must struggle to apply the principles behind these commandments, so as to understand how God wants us to interact with one another in the different contexts in which we find ourselves.
Few of us in our current society actually have the position and power to actively many of the issues dealt with in this text. We do not offer and grant loans, as the banks and credit unions are in that business. We do not have servants with whom we interact. We are not in charge of hearing and judging lawsuits among our fellows. We are not in positions to enact judicial sentences upon immigrants. We do not harvest crops or find the poor entering our fields in search of produce left behind after a harvest.
On the other hand, we live in a society composed of many parts. We have a voice in the making and application of laws in our society that deal similarly with people who find themselves in economic straits, needing justice, and living in service to corporate structures on whom they depend. We do not live in the context of Ancient Israel, but we live in a society where there are conflicts of interests between the poor or marginalized and those who control the flow of wealth and power around us.
The principles in this passage would have us call out predatory lending as violence against the poor. They would challenge us to speak for those who would be evicted from shelter against the elements. They would incite us to work for prompt payment of wages to those who depend upon them for survival. They would press us to stand up for marginalized communities. They would push us to end structures which gauge human value in regard to familial status. They would encourage us to make sure our economy provides for a secondary class without the means of wealth production. They would call us to consider people as being of greater worth than money, food, and other emblems of wealth.
That is a tall order for a mere dozen verses of text from some three millennia past. It is a tall order for us today, even as it was a tall order for those Hebrews who were moving into a land in which their ancestors had merely passed through without no claim to ownership. They were revolutionary words that called these freed slaves to rise above the patterns and structures of the societies all around them. To them fell this challenge to rise above the easy path of settling for the known paradigm of how economic structures worked the world over.
In their call to honor Yahweh, they were to live in a way that respected every one of Yahweh's creatures. They were to build a society based on principles of equality of worth that extended far beyond any of the notions considered by their neighbors.
There was more to it than that, however. The entry into the land of Yahweh's promise was dictated upon the understanding that every family would receive an equitable portion of land upon which to build their lives and futures. They were to build a nation from a shared foundation of justice and the opportunity to receive and enjoy the fullness of God's blessings and abundance. As a whole, the nation was to be sure that economic prosperity cared for all of its members, including outsiders who would come into the land.
God's bounty was slated to be sufficient for all. Consequently, the people were not to be chintzy with Yahweh's provisions. No one was supposed to end up without the means of economic production, but there was an understanding that poverty would still creep into the society for one reason or another. That was not, however, to be the result of the economic practices of Yahweh's people. No one was to become poor due to their needs being ignored or used as a profit motive by others.
Those with the means of economic production were not to use their wealth simply for individual comfort and security. They were to view their blessings as opportunities to be Yahweh's conduit to care for those with less access and opportunity. These laws and precepts were based on the principle that all blessing is from God. As God had redeemed them from Egypt, so they were to redeem others from systems of economic oppression. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore, I command you to do this.”
These are not words directed at individual piety. They are ethics for national economic policy. They also apply to the individual, but they are first of all direction to those who control systems of wealth and justice. Are we ready to take their challenge to heart? It is time to do so, lest those struggling for justice cry against us.

©Copyright 2018, Christopher B. Harbin  http://www.sermonsearch.com/contributors/104427/ 

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