Caring for Country

Matthew 25:14-30

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:29-30)

Even standing in line at the National Archives is inspiring. The original Declaration of Independence is on the left: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness . . . . That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

That declaration was a blowtorch that lit up the world. No one had ever said in such a glorious way that people have a right to rule themselves. The rich and poor have equal standing. We forget how stunning it was.

The Constitution, in the center, is the longest lasting written constitution in the world. The founding fathers rejected the idea of property qualifications for holding office because they wanted no part of “veneration for wealth.” Their goal was to preserve equal opportunities by destroying any alliance between government and money.

The Bill of Rights may be even more amazing: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The first amendment puts every citizen on the same footing. Page Smith reminds us, “Their ambition was not merely to free themselves from dependence and subordination to the crown, but to inspire people everywhere to create agencies of government and forms of common social life that would offer greater dignity and hope to the exploited and suppressed.”

Carol and I were following a father and daughter around the rotunda. We heard the father whisper, “This is the Bill of Rights. It says that every person is free.”

The little girl stared at that aging, fading document and said, “It looks like it’s falling apart.”

To which her father replied, “It’s been through a lot.”

Our country has been through a lot—much of it hard and much of it wonderful. We have been given great blessings and responsibility. Where do you think the United States is in Jesus’ story?

Just before going overseas for a year, a rich executive calls three employees in and says, “I’m going to give you a chance to prove yourselves. I’m leaving some money for you to work with. When I come back, I expect a profit.”

He gives the first $500,000, the second $200,000, the third $100,000. The year passes quickly. The first two take chances with what they have been given and do well. The owner calls them “good and faithful” and invites them to dinner with him. The third is lazy and selfish. He hoards what he’s been given, hiding the money where no one can get to it. What he doesn’t understand is that the money was never his to keep. The executive says, “Throw him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This harsh story is a warning to those who think that they’ve done their duty in merely keeping what they’ve been given.

The United States is a five-talent country. We have welcomed tired, poor, huddled masses. We have led the world in providing schools for children and care for the elderly. We have made progress in giving justice to all. Our country has in many ways lived out the goodness of her core values. We have been blessed and been a blessing.

We are a five-talent nation, but we are always tempted to act like a one-talent people, to hoard what we’ve been given. Government too easily falls into the hands of those who favor the haves over the have-nots.

That is why the gap between rich and poor is greater than it has been in fifty years—the worst inequality among western nations. Poverty is showing up where we haven’t expected it—among families that include two parents who work. These newly poor are people who love their children and work hard to care for them. Although they are running hard, they keep falling farther behind.

The gap between them and prosperous America is widening. More children are growing up in poverty in our country than in any other industrial nation. Millions of workers are making less money today in real dollars than they did twenty years ago. Working people are putting in longer hours just to stay in place. The Republicans and Democrats argue over who is the real champion of the middle class. Neither seems to care about those with the greatest needs.

Franklin Roosevelt said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

The poverty that persists amid great wealth, the growing gap between the rich and poor, and the maldistribution of wealth and opportunity should break our hearts.

Since he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Jimmy Carter has been asked many times to identify the greatest threat to peace. He says the greatest danger is “the growing chasm between the haves and have-nots—a gap that contributes to oppression, injustice, hunger, disease and war.”

Jesus lived with compassion for the poor and forgotten. Christ’s followers live with the same compassion. God wants us to bless America, to make our country more caring. So Christians do not vote to support their own pocketbooks but to help people whose pocketbooks are empty.

We raise our voices for those who don’t get heard. We work to provide low-income housing, improve schools, expand job opportunities, promote financial security in retirement, support the mentally ill, and offer assistance for the working poor.

We ask hard questions about our government’s policies. Do they represent the common good of society rather than the interests of an elite few? Do they show sensitivity to the spirit of the golden rule? Do they refrain from the arrogant assumption that the powerful have the right to ignore the needs of the hurting? Do they widen the gap between rich and poor?

Christ’s followers know that the less fortunate are sisters and brothers. We take Christ’s example seriously. Bill Moyers wrote,

Over the past few years, as the poor got poorer, the health care crisis worsened, wealth became more and more concentrated, and our political system was bought out from under us, prophetic Christianity lost its voice. The religious right drowned everyone else out. And they hijacked Jesus. The very Jesus who stood in Nazareth and proclaimed, “The Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.” The very Jesus who challenged the religious orthodoxy of the day by feeding the hungry on the Sabbath, who offered kindness to the prostitute and hospitality to the outcast, who said the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children, raised the status of women, and treated even the tax collector like a child of God. This Jesus has been hijacked and turned into a guardian of privilege instead of a champion of the dispossessed. Let’s get Jesus back. (Bill Moyers, “Call to Renewal,” keynote address, Washington, D.C., 24 May 2004)

Caring for the poor is not a partisan issue. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative; Jesus is both and neither. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican—Jesus is both and neither. God calls us all to become more like Christ by caring for the hurting.

God invites to the table those who are given to grace, who help those who are hurting, and who seek God’s mercy. Sharing the supper is promising to live as Christ’s followers.

time_for_supper_cvrThis post originally appeared in Time for Supper: Invitations to Christ’s Table by Brett Younger.

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