Sunday, September 03, 2006

Who are the poor?

(I'll post essays for September 1 and 2 soon...)

I saw this verse from the Proverbs in this morning's reading, and it reminded me of the opening scene of Superman Returns. Here's the verse:
He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich--both come to poverty.
Proverbs 22.16
Now what's the movie scene I'm talking about? Well, there is a rich old woman on her deathbed, and she signs a new will -- leaving everything to the villain Lex Luthor.

Why does this verse about the poor remind me of a dying rich woman? Because although she was materially rich, she was spiritually bankrupt to give so much material wealth -- to think she owed so much -- to this awful criminal.

Now the verse isn't talking directly about that -- it seems to be talking about the materially poor and about physical riches -- but it seems to me that there's a general principle of, well, exploitation, if not oppression. Whatever kind of exploitation there is, God doesn't seem very happy about it.

The prophets talk a lot about justice for the (materially) poor, and Jesus did too, as did Paul. But I'd like to think a little more today about how that could be a picture of the spiritually poor.

On one hand, Jesus said that the poor in spirit are blessed (Matthew 5.3) and yet we can see how the poor in spirit can also be led astray (Paul talks about weak-willed people who are easily manipulated - 2 Timothy 3.6). In recent history, we see people like Manson and Koresh and Jones, who led astray lots of people and came to a bad end.

So what? You and I aren't leaders of paramilitary groups or suicide cults, but one application might be to take to heart what Paul says elsewhere (2 Corinthians 4: "We have renounced secret and shameful ways" for example) - i.e., that we not deceive people to try to control them - to gain power (to increase a sort of psychological or spiritual wealth).

Never to trick anyone or manipulate anyone... or "guilt" anyone into anything... Or, of course, to delay payment or underpay anyone either. May God help us to be people of integrity, and to avoid, yea to renounce, "secret and shameful ways."

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