In our sheltered existence, many of us do not notice the plight of the poor. We know that they are there, and we see them from time to time, but we know little of their existence. While we all have struggles, theirs are different than ours. Many people strive to alleviate the sufferings of the poor, especially at this time of the year. The Christmas Season is a “time when Want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices,” said the gentleman attempting to get a contribution from Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Then there are many who prey on the working poor, because they are an easy target. In fact, it is a growing industry in America. There are many individuals and businesses that have amassed fortunes by taking advantage of the poor. It is usually done in the guise of providing them financial services or other forms of assistance. Payday lenders provide expensive cash advances against a customer’s next payday at outrageous interest rates. Rent-to-own stores and “pay here” car lots offer to help people get the things they want, at prices and interest rates that are twice as high as what wealthier consumers pay. Check cashing stores and banks that offer overdraft protection (at a high price) for low income people encourage the working poor to dig deeper into debt.
These practices often lock the working poor into a debt cycle that prevents them from becoming upwardly mobile. The working poor are targeted by these companies and are being encouraged to live beyond their means. Why are there so few consumer laws to protect the poor from those who would prey on them? This is really big business that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars, and is growing every year. These businesses are backed by well known banks and financial institutions. Since political campaigns need financing, there is little incentive by elected officials to stop businesses from preying on the poor. The practices are defended as being “simply an exercise of capitalism.” Perhaps even more egregious than these examples are “prosperity preachers,” who victimize the poor seeking to grow their ministries. The poor have no champion.
In our text today from Isaiah, God speaks of his great displeasure with the leaders of his people who are benefiting from abusing those who are poor. “The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord GOD of hosts.” Obviously, we are not the first generation to abuse our poor. The practice is thousands of years old. However, one thing that has not changed is the heart of our God.
Jesus spoke against those who prey on the poor (see “Widow’s Mite II” from June 16, 2011). In Luke 4:18, while in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah 61 which begins “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Jesus went on to tell them that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we are shown that Jesus paid special attention to the poor and the outcasts of society. As the Church has been called to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ, we are to display that same love and attention. Where is the voice of the whole Christian church in these matters? Why are we not the champions for the poor?
Yes, there are untold numbers of Christians, who work in soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food banks; but where is the collective voice crying out against the abuses? Major denominations seem to be too caught up in other matters to offer any significant leadership in this area. Collectively, the Church could bring pressure to bear on government regulatory agencies and elected officials to create and enforce law that protect the poor from the predators who stalk them.
The gentlemen who came to solicit a contribution from Ebenezer Scrooge were right. We do need to make some provision for the poor at this time of year. However, we need to remember them not only at Christmas. We need to be their champion every day of the year!
The photo above is from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Celina, Ohio. it can be found on their website http://www.spcelina.org/ .