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John W. MartensSeptember 08, 2016

“The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow” (Ps 146:9)

Liturgical day
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), Sept. 25, 2016
Readings: Am 6:1-7; Ps 146:6-10; 1 Tm 6: 11-16; Lk 16:19-31
Consider the woes that both the Old Testament and Jesus tell us fall upon those who revel in wealth and ignore the needy. How are you caring for the needy at your gate? How can you align yourselves more fully with the widow and the orphan? What opportunities does your church have to serve people in need?

If you are not interested in caring for those in need, have no fear, God is on watch for them. Do not worry. The psalmist tells us that “the Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow.” Though God would prefer that we join in on the watch, even if we ignore the plight of those in need, or turn from the suffering, God will not turn away or forget them.

On the other hand, even if you have no particular concern for the poor and cannot rouse yourself from your bed of ivory or comfortable couch to watch out for the marginalized and the weak among us for their sake, it might be worth paying attention to those in need if you maintain an inkling of care for yourself. For one thing, those in need, in the instant of a flood, a death, a job loss or lost health care, might be any of us. But there is one other thing to keep in mind: God is on watch for all of us, and God’s watch is for eternity.

The words of Scripture that call on us to care for the stranger, the widow and the orphan are the word of God and not reflective of a particular political party or the political rhetoric of one candidate or another. These are not the “lefty” stump-speech bromides of your favorite (or least favorite) candidate; these are God’s words for us in every age and at every time, back when kings ruled as the law and now when some people live as if there is no law. Psalm 146 reminds us, whatever our current political choices, that “the Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.” Here is the long view if you are considering ignoring God’s commands to us.

Sometimes, it is true, God’s word is difficult to translate and even more difficult to interpret, but there is something straightforward about the psalmist’s promises regarding God: “Who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry...But the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”

And the prophet Amos’s words to the people of Israel, a kingdom that was soon to crumble under the weight of Assyrian power, resonate across the ages and political divides down to Wall Street, Silicon Valley and our living rooms, suffused in the pleasures of a new age and new comforts: “Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure.”

What do these words and texts written thousands of years ago mean to us? Do we hear them as God’s word to us? It is not just that these texts are challenging to understand; it is that they are challenging to live. Yet we perform our most profound interpretation of Scripture in how we live, for how we live is what we believe. If we truly believe that the Scripture is God’s word for us, then the choices we make with respect to the poor and the marginalized implicate our lives forever.

Jesus tells a parable in which the poor man Lazarus died and “was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.” The nameless rich man, however, was “in agony in these flames” after he died. Images of hell abound in Scripture, in medieval literature and in popular culture, but Jesus’ parable shows to us the separation, the chasm, between those comforted in the presence of God after death and those separated from the presence of God by selfish choice. If we truly believe that God is on watch for the poor, the widow and the orphan, then now is the time to align ourselves with God’s reign, with Lazarus, for the sake of the poor now and, if nothing else, for our own sakes.

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