April 1, 2019
The people walk throughout the world together
and cry out, "Come, O Lord";
the people who long to claim the promise,
God's liberating Word.
The poor ones of the world await the dawn of hope,
when justice will shine and make oppression flee.
The empty hands of all are raised to you, Lord God:
oh, set us free!
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #706]
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, April 7, 2019, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, are as follows:
In the Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, one line jumped out at me over all the others. It's Jesus' very last words in the lesson: "
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
We are drawing ever closer to the passion and death of Jesus, and this particular story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with costly perfume in anticipation of his burial most likely was placed here to prepare us for that wretched occasion.
But as I read the lesson, I couldn't let go of the whole fuss with Judas and his pretentious protest with the expense of the perfume. It didn't seem to bother anyone else in the house except for the outraged Judas. There are a few other versions of this story in the gospels, but only John links Judas to the question of the cost. And Jesus' response is probably one of the most enigmatic comments in all of scripture.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me
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 upcoming Sunday the preacher will focus on Mary's extravagant act of pouring expensive perfume on Jesus' feet and drying them with her hair. But not many will point out the closing sentence of the Gospel reading quoted above.
So I want to touch upon that sentence briefly. This Jesus, who was anointed "to bring good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18), now appears to speak dismissively of the poor.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
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
, the distinguished Old Testament scholar, 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.
Jesus had a preferential option for the poor. He was against poverty. He built much of his reputation on the way he accepted, fed, and healed people who were outside the socio-economic safety zones - men without status in the eyes of the temple and court authorities, widows who were unable to stand on their own two feet, and children who were unable to make choices for themselves.
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 the plight of the poor?
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. Many of them work in factories that produce much of your clothing, and those expensive tennis shoes that you wear.
There's also an interesting web site,
Global Rich List
, 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 astound you.
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.
So, go in peace. Remember the poor.
This Monday and Tuesday I am at Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana, where I am with my Region Six bishop colleagues, select staff, and many of the first-call pastors, deacons, and mentors as we gather for our annual First Call Theological Education Conference. Our featured presenter this year is The Rev. Dave Daubert, of Day 8 Strategies, who will lead a series of conversations around the topic: "Evangelism... How and Why in Ministry Today."
We are facing challenging times in ministry, and these conferences are a way of equipping our church leaders for the blessed but difficult work of leading God's people for the sake of the gospel. I never tire of saying how much our newer pastors increase my hope for the church, and I champion every opportunity available to encourage them in their efforts.
Sunday, I will be with the people of God at Zion, New Middletown, to install the Rev. Erin Burns as pastor. Pastor Burns also serves St. John, Petersburg.
This week and always, may your mouths be filled with laughter, and your tongues with shouts of joy, for all the great things the Lord has done for you. [Psalm 126]
+Bishop Abraham Allende