God’s Interest

In the covenant code in Exodus, in which Moses reveals God’s prohibitions and commandments to the Israelites, we quickly learn that God is a God who hears the voices of the powerless, who sees the needs of the poor. The terms of the covenant directed the Israelites not to “wrong or oppress a resident alien” or “abuse any widow or orphan.” And “if you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep?” God offers the poor divine protection, a protection that is accompanied by promises of judgment on those who exploit the needy. God says, “If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry,” and “if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.”

Amy-Jill Levine and Douglas Knight write of God’s care for those in need, saying: “Certainly not all widows were poor, and neither were all foreigners and orphans. But they were the most vulnerable members of the community. Rather than leave their care to the moral compass of those who were better off or to the compassionate individual, the law insists that all members of society bear responsibility for the care of its neediest members” (The Meaning of the Bible).

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That we adopt God’s generous care for the neediest among us and not turn away from those most vulnerable is incumbent upon Christians. This concern also requires constant calibration, for individuals and societies have blind spots that block our vision and hide from us the poor among us. These impede our moral vision precisely in those areas where change is needed and affect our ability to see clearly what God has demanded of us.

I passed over just such a command from this section of the covenant code, whose intent is also to guard the poor and weak: “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.” It is not my intention to offer a discourse on what level of interest constitutes usury, whether church teaching regarding usury has changed or whether this teaching applied only to loans among Israelites.

Instead I will simply ask some questions. Does exacting interest from the poor lead to the same sort of moral outrage today that oppressing the orphan and the widow do? What sort of interest do payday loan companies and credit card companies charge? How much debt is required to attend “for profit” colleges or even, it must be said, nonprofit universities, which require massive loans for most students? How well is our financial system giving attention to the poor?

Supporting all of these particular demands of the compassionate God to see and hear the poor among us are two commandments that Judaism taught and Jesus later proclaimed: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”; and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The first commandment, known as the Shema (Dt 6:4), asks us to love God foremost; but if the love of God is our foremost guide, we will shape ourselves in the image of the one we love, God, whose commandments allow us to see our neighbor as God sees: as a beloved friend of God. When we see our neighbors as God sees them, we will treat them with the clarity of God’s compassion.

These questions regarding our neighbors go beyond asking what is the letter of the law regarding charging interest, or what is the least I can do for the immigrant who lives among us. But how can I hear what God hears? How can I see my neighbors as God sees them? When we are inspired by the word of God to imitate God’s care for the weak and vulnerable, to hear the cries God hears and to see people as God sees them, then our blindness falls away. We are transformed by God, who desires us to care for all among us who are in need, not just because particular laws govern us but because the love of God and neighbor burns in us.

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Bruce Snowden
3 years 9 months ago
I find expansively instructive the early on assertion that, “God is a God who hears the voices of the powerless, who sees the need of the poor” because we’re told, “God is love.” Since “God is love,” even the lukewarm, the non-believer, when they act out of love, be it ever so anemic are empowered to actually fulfill Divine intent, perhaps philanthropically , or in any other way even without knowing it, so long as love is the motivator even if not felt. Love, to be love, doesn’t need to be felt. This, along with the believer who through affiliation to and of intended activities of God, collectively help verify Biblical words that God does in truth “hear the cries of the poor.” In other words whoever helps the poor, believer or otherwise for whatever reason at least outlined in love, is verifying that “God is love” How chagrined must Satan be! God kicks off his shoes (the Shoes of the Fisherman?) and relaxing lays back, as a scowling Satan walks away, tail between his legs! Answering your question, “How does the Bible help me to discover blind spots in my moral vision?” For me, it’s a matter of listening to, not just reading the message. I listen, and I receive affirmation that the path being followed is the right path and if not, I discover the deficit with clues leading to proper correction. All of this is not absolutely clear at once, but persistent listening will eventually unplug the ears of the soul and you get to know what you need to know. I try to remember to take my cue from the holy Capuchin Brother St. Conrad of Parzham who said, “The Cross is my book. One look at the Cross and I know what I have to do!” For Conrad this was foolproof. For me, it sometimes takes more than “one look” at the Cross, but if I “put on my listening ears” as Judge Judy likes to say, ears that can sometimes look like eyes and even shed tears like eyes, knowing what I have to do becomes apparent!
John Martin
3 years 8 months ago
Are you asking your questions to "Americans", to "America", or to "Catholics sojourning in America" ? America does not legislate itself with the commands of God, but according to popular cultural sentiment. It is not Catholic (the Kingdom established by God, in the world but not of the world), but it is a kingdom, a people, established by the world, in the world and of the world - that is "America". As Catholics, a People sojourning in America (and in all the countries we find ourselves), we are called to be a torch, a light, walking in this dark place of usury and of a financial system that is inattentive to the poor. We are the evidence of a different understanding of the poor that cares for them. That is our vocation in our temporary residence known as America, hearing as God hears, seeing neighbor as God sees them, participating in God caring for the weak and vulnerable, hearing their cries. We are evidence that popular cultural legislation is a not Good, not from God. John Martin

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