The Hope of the Poor and the Hope of the Rich

In the book of Micah, Yahweh God is very pissed off at the leaders of Israel for their mistreatment of the poor. He says in verse 3:1-3:
"Listen, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel. Should you not know justice. you who hate good and love evil; who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bone, who eat my people's flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones in pieces; who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot?"

At this time all the eschatological hope of Israel was in the Temple. For them, the Temple was where God met with them. The temple was their way to life, their way to redemption. It is within this context that God judges them with this threat:
"Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets."

Essentially what's going on here is that as the poor are being abused the leaders are getting fat and God is reminding them that this can't last. The leaders can't expect to hope, they can't expect their prosperity to last as long as they are denying other their hope. If they oppress, their temple will be destroyed. For God, the fate of the rich is caught up in the fate of the poor. Where there is oppression the Temple of Yahweh, a symbol of hope and freedom, is lost.

Where are the prophetic voices today? The church in the U.S. often fits the typology of the oppressive leaders of Israel, getting fat and expecting salvation, while in their midst the poor are trampled. We have fallen for the lie of autonomy and have bought into the ideology that says that their poverty is their own fault and it's not our responsibility to worry about them. Let us be reminded of Micah chapter 3. Let us be reminded that the hope of the rich is tied up with the hope of the poor. If we leave them hopeless as we go home to sleep in our mansions, their poverty is still our poverty. It's not them and us, it's we.

James echoes the same message, the message that the fate of the poor and the fate of the rich are intertwined.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Not only is God obsessed (for lack of a stronger term) with the poor, but he sees the rich and poor in community and the rich are never free from the responsibility of sharing in community with the poor. Their hope, once again, is caught up and tied together. When the rich trample on the hope of the poor, the rich will have their hope trampled upon. The Temple is lost wherever there is oppression.

Jesus shows us that it goes even further. The hope of God, not just that of the rich, is caught up in the hope of the poor. In Jesus life, he opened himself up to people. In a culture where touch meant letting the other in, Jesus touched and allowed himself to be touched by trampled people, unaccepted people, subjugated people, even sinful people. In being touched by a tax collector, he became a tax collector. In being touched by a prostitute, Jesus became a prostitute. Jesus' life was entangled with the oppressed.

This is why the "last supper" was so genius. The meal was a passover meal, a meal which, at its heart, remembers those who were enslaved in Egypt. It is in this meal, before the backdrop of passover memory that Jesus says, "do this in remembrance of me." The Eucharist is not just the memory of Jesus' suffering, but of the suffering of his people, the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt along with all those who touched him. The suffering of God is tied up in the suffering of his people. And thus, the hope of God is caught up in his people's hope. The Eucharist, with its resurrection implications, anticipates the end of suffering--our suffering and God's suffering.

We are called to persevere, to struggle against evil, in the face of oppression. When we find ourselves participating in oppression, let us be reminded that our hope is tied up with the hope of the oppressed. So, may we be a city on a hill, a beacon of hope.


nate said…
Acts 4:32, "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, BUT EVERYTHING THEY OWNED WAS HELD IN COMMON." (not socialism/communism, which is a state mandate, the case here is voluntary."

That's what came to mind when I read this post. In my opinion, the church buckled in the industrial revolution to the roar of Capitalism, which can be entirely self serving.

Where are all the prophets? I think there are many proclaiming this message these days, from Rob Bell, to the new list of sins out of Rome. I wrote not too long ago a post along these lines

I must say, while I am rich beyond measure in light of the bigger global picture, things have been incredibly financially burdensome for my family (6 of us, 1 small income). At one point, only two years ago we were nearly homeless, inbetween jobs, and God's people came through for us. Provided food, provided shelter, and money, without us even asking...they just observed and reacted biblically.

I am encouraged by them, and this post.