Words of Judgment

Friday, December 7, 2012 — Week of 1 Advent, Year 1

Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 397

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 936)

Psalms 16, 17 (morning) // 22 (evening)

Isaiah 3:8-15

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

Luke 20:41 – 21:4

Today’s gospel reading shines a light on a poor widow offering two modest copper coins into the temple treasury. Her gift seems overshadowed by the nearby lavish, expensive contributions of the wealthy. Jesus remarks on the contrast: “All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had to live on.” (Luke 21:4, CEB) The poignancy of the scene is deepened by Jesus’ words that follow in the next passage. This temple that they are contributing to “will be demolished.” (21:6b) It is a corrupt system that benefits the wealthy and cheats the poor. Not even Jesus’ cleansing can purify it. It cannot stand. Jesus also speaks judgment upon the “legal experts” and religious officers who are honored in the market and have seats of honor in worship and at banquets. “They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.” (20:47)

Isaiah has a similar complaint today. “My people — your leaders mislead you and confuse your paths…. The LORD will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: You yourselves have devoured the vineyard; the goods stolen from the poor are in your houses. How dare you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor? says the LORD God of heavenly forces.” (3:12b, 14-15) The chapter continues with Isaiah’s condemnation of the extravagant and lavish lifestyle of the wealthy women of Jerusalem, and speaks a haunting word of judgment to them.

Two voices, Jesus and Isaiah, consistent with so many other voices in scripture, speaking God’s judgment and prophesying political and economic catastrophe because of how the wealthy and powerful exploit the poor and vulnerable.

Jesus and Isaiah speak to our contemporary political and economic scene. Right now we are in a debate. How will we act to restore prosperity to a nation with high unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, increased poverty, struggling schools and a large public debt?

For thirty years gains in wealth and income have all gone to the wealthiest 10%, the lion’s share of that to the top 1%, and an even more dramatic portion to the super-wealthy 0.01%. “The elders and princes… you yourselves have devoured the vineyard; the goods stolen from the poor are in your houses.”

Slick promoting financiers have sold speculative loans and repackaged opaque derivatives that busted the housing market and caused scandalous numbers of foreclosures. “They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes.”

So our leaders debate. Who should sacrifice to mend the nation? “Do not raise taxes on the rich. Cut spending for these widows and poor. We can’t afford them anymore,” say some of them. (And they do “say long prayers.”) No more “spare change” from the contributions of the wealthy.

Is there any question what Jesus and Isaiah would say?

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