Saturday, November 10, 2012

Widows, Orphans and Resident Aliens

Ruth, a resident alien, undocumented, left her home in Moab to return to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi’s husband has died, Ruth’s husband has died, so Naomi urges Ruth to work in a relative’s field gleaning grain. At Naomi’s urging , Ruth is to find a way to marry Boaz, the relative. They marry, they have a child and so Ruth becomes the grandmother of David, the shepherd king.

Jesus is in the temple. He is watching. He is watching how much each person contributes to the temple treasury - that is, he is watching how much money people contribute as their tithe. Along comes a poor widow (reminiscent of Ruth and Naomi). She has no one to care for, and just a few small coins. She places her two small coins in the offering. Jesus, we discover, not only watches what people place in the offering, he comments on their offerings as well! He commends the widow - for others contributed out of their abundance, while she gave all she had, the two small coins - “all she had to live on.”

We have stories this week about two of the three classes of people the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus cares about - widows, orphans and resident aliens. He lifts us the two widows, one a resident alien (Ruth), as examples for the rest of us. They are not to be ignored, or worse, discriminated against. They are not to be marginalized. They are to be embraced, for by their examples the future of Israel is to be secured.

Over against this backdrop of what the Bible has to say about immigration and supporting those who are unable to support themselves we have the results and response of our recent national election. Former Amboy Dukes guitarist (“Journey to the center of your mind”) Ted Nugent tweets, “Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters hav a president to destroy America,” evidently not happy with a President who seeks to fulfill the Biblical mandate to help those in need, to secure the future for today’s widows, orphans and resident aliens. We saw big money spent to deny the children of resident aliens an affordable education.

And last week, while at a wonderfully extravagant party in our nation’s capitol in a second floor loft and yoga studio where food, drink and music was overflowing - a stroll around the block revealed a number of people “downstairs” setting up places on the sidewalks and in doorways to sleep the night on the pavement. The contrast was stark. And only blocks from the White House and Congress, where policies are set in motion that make result in such people having nowhere else to go.

I spoke to two men who had their hands out seeking to raise enough money to rent a room for the night. It was cold, dipping into the lower forties. I asked them why they did not seek a public shelter. “Man,” they said, “it’s worse than jail in there. People rob you, steal your shoes, up all night makin’ noise, and they throw you back out on the street at the crack of dawn. It’s better out here.” I gave them $10 on my way back upstairs where the food and drinks were flowing like milk and honey.

It has been said by many that the measure of a society can be summed up by how it treats its most vulnerable people - the very young, the very old, the very ill, the very poor. It struck me as ironic that within walking distance of our nation’s power structures the measure of our society was pitiful. Meanwhile those candidates that offered a vision that would reach out to lift up folks like those who were sleeping on a single piece of cardboard for a bed on the sidewalks of Washington D.C. are demonized as socialistic and un-American - most often by those who claim to champion a so-called “Biblical world-view” and muster all kinds of arguments from the Bill of Rights to arm themselves for protection from such widows, orphans and resident aliens.

Naomi her mother-in-law said to Ruth, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you…”

In Luke, chapter 12 Jesus tells a story about a man who is utterly independent - he has acquired so much “stuff’ he has to build a number of barns to store it all - the origin of self -storage. He throws a party to celebrate the completion of the barns, but there is no one there but himself. He even says, “Self, look what we have accomplished.” The voice of the Lord God intervenes and says, “Self? You ain’t no self! Look at you. No friends, no one to celebrate with, just a bunch of barns full of stuff. Your life could be taken this moment and what do you really have?”

The counter narrative is to Love God and Love neighbor - a vision of interdependence. A vision of a world shaped by the Manna narrative in the wilderness - a bracketed period of time, 40 years, when everyone had enough, no one had too much, and when you tried to hoard the Manna it went sour.

Just how sour do things need to get before we admit that our visions and theories of independent, self- sustaining individuals leaves us with barns filled to overflowing, but no one to live let alone celebrate life with?

Ruth and the Widow with two small coins. Once again, women point the way forward. Women offer us a vision of just how life could be were we to really take “Biblical values” seriously.  One can easily point the finger of blame at the poor, or at liberals, or at Randian social conservatives - but that just will not work at the end of the day. One can walk past the man or woman on the street with the hand out looking for some kind of assistance. Or, we can stop. We can stop and strike up a conversation with them. To take the time to talk with someone in need is often better than dropping a few coins or a dollar in their outstretched hands. For to stop and talk to someone is to say they are a person too just like me. To stop and talk to them is to grant them personhood and standing within our society. To stop and talk to them, and listen to them, and really hear them is to say, “You have value - you are human - I accept you as a brother or sister in Christ - in the name of Allah - as a co-equal in God’s kingdom.” To want widows, orphans and resident aliens to have health care, an education, and enough to live on day to day - is that really un-American? Is that really un-Christian? Is that really un-Biblical? Society is judged not on the value of our most successful, but rather how we care for the least of our sisters and brothers.

As Naomi says to Ruth, “We need to seek security for all our sisters and brothers so that it may be well with us all.” Amen.

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