15th Sunday after Pentecost: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
This lectionary selection pulls these three proverb “couplets” that all relate to how we treat the poor. In fact, all of the lectionary readings for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost include the theme of caring for the poor or standing up for the oppressed. This is one of my favorite themes found in the Bible. While following God doesn’t align with any political party, Scripture is clear that God cares about the poor and the oppressed. How we care for the poor in our context may vary, but we should care. We should take the time to consider how to use whatever power we have to help those with less power.
Looking at the specific proverbs chosen by the lectionary, there is definitely a progression of thought. It starts out letting us know that regardless of our station in life or how financially powerful we are—we are no better than the poor. Everyone owes all they have to the Lord, who created us. The next couplet steps it up and talks about the unjust. There’s an underlying assumption that the unjust are the rich, or at least a sub-set of the rich. It could sound here like the poor are considered better than, or more deserving than the rich, but that’s not really what’s being proposed. Verses 8-9 are talking about injustice. More than any other people group, the rich have the ability to wield power, justly or unjustly. So when injustice is taking place, you can bet someone rich or powerful is at the helm of that injustice.
The last set raises the stakes even higher. In case the person with influence hasn’t taken the hint from the earlier verses, this last set makes it clear—if you use your power to take advantage of the poor, the Lord is their advocate. Oppression might be easy, everyone might be doing it, but it’s wrong.
Nobody thinks of themselves as an oppressor, and it’s likely that most people aren’t setting out to actively oppress anyone. We don’t have to, there are systems in place that do it for us. When there are food and clothing choices available at rock bottom prices, that means someone is likely working for oppressively low wages. Sadly, the argument can’t be made that at least our own poor people are also the beneficiaries. Those low prices aren’t offered in the poorest of our neighborhoods. Wander into any inner city corner market and the same items that were acquired by store owners at rock bottom prices are being sold in low-income neighborhoods at greatly marked up prices.
Economic realities don’t change overnight and each person rightly feels like there isn’t a lot they can do by themselves. However, I would challenge you to at least look into where your dollars are going. Do the research to find the companies who only do business with safe manufacturers who pay fair wages. Remind yourself constantly that there are people, sometimes children, on the other end of your purchase. Treat them like the people they are—people God loves dearly.