Fifth Sunday in Lent
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.
[John 12:8 New Revised Standard Version]
At the end of worship, in many of our Lutheran congregations, we are often dismissed with the words, “Go in peace, remember the poor.”
We respond, “Thanks be to God,” and head for the nearest exit, giving little or no thought to the words just heard, and going on with the rest of our day and our lives with a lack of concern for the poor.
I imagine that in many churches this Fifth Sunday in Lent, the preacher focused on Mary’s extravagant act of pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and drying them with her hair. But not many would have pointed out the closing sentence of the Gospel reading quoted above.
So I want to touch upon that sentence briefly. (Unfortunately, you will be reading this on Monday, since I failed to post earlier Sunday, on the actual day.)
Jesus was quoting from the Torah. More specifically, the laws concerning the Sabbatical Year found in Deuteronomy, chapter 15. You can’t understand what Jesus said — or what Judas heard him saying — unless you understand what it is he was quoting.
Deuteronomy 15:11 states: Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
In his book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggeman writes that, “the intention [of the Sabbath law] is that there should be no permanent underclass in Israel.” He makes reference to Deuteronomy 15:4: “There will, however, be no one in need among you…”
Brueggemann goes on to say that Deuteronomy is particularly attentive to the needs of what he calls “the great triad of vulnerability;” widows, orphans, and immigrants, needy members of society who are without protected rights.
It is not God’s will that anyone should be poor. Yet hunger, homelessness and poverty are still a tragic reality for millions every day. At least half the world’s population lives on the edge of survival because of the effects of poverty.
We live in the most affluent society the world has ever seen. How can we remain indifferent to their plight?
Here are a couple of statistics that I pulled from somewhere for a sermon I preached several years ago.
- Of the world’s 6 billion people, more than 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day. Two billion more people are only marginally better off.
- About 60 percent of the people living on less than $1 a day live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
There’s also an interesting web site, globalrichlist.com, that will calculate your salary and compare it to the incomes all over the world. Click on the link and put in your income. The results will surprise you.
Jesus had a preferential option for the poor. He was against poverty. There is extreme poverty in this world because there is extreme wealth. If we want to follow Christ, we must struggle constantly and seriously with issues of wealth in our own lives.
Go in peace. Remember the poor.