Thursday, September 02, 2010

For American Christians, Whose Need Matters?

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 has got me ruminating:
If anyone is poor among your people in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your people and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward those of your people who are poor and needy in your land. (TNIV)

If we want to apply this passage to American Christians in the 21st Century, what adjustments must we make? The “command,” “advice,” “directive,” or whatever it is, is clearly directed toward the Israelites at a particular time in a particular situation. (I am aware that I am unfairly mixing hermeneutical traditions and jumping ahead too quickly for any truly scholarly handling of Scripture.)
Can we assume that we (American Christians in the 21st Century) are the “new Israel”? If so, who are our brethren, our brothers, the people around us, the members of our community (I’m citing various translations)? To whom are we supposed to be open-handed? Is it other Christians? Christians in my community? People of my race?  People of my faith tradition, of my ideology, with my “blood”? Clearly in the original context it’s a defined people. How do we define who is in and who is out for our situation?
Relatedly, what are the towns of the land? Is it my ‘hood, my parish, my city, my state, my nation?

Or should American Christians just toss aside this scriptural passage because it doesn’t pertain to us. Maybe it pertains just to to “Israel”? If so, does that mean Jews by faith? Semites by blood? Israelis by citizenship? Does it pertain only to the “Holy Land” (whichever boundaries you accept)?

What do you think?

When you happen on someone who's in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that God, your God, is giving you, don't look the other way pretending you don't see him. Don't keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs. Don't count the cost. Don't listen to that selfish voice saying, "It's almost the seventh year, the year of All-Debts-Are-Canceled," and turn aside and leave your needy neighbor in the lurch, refusing to help him. He'll call God's attention to you and your blatant sin. Give freely and spontaneously. Don't have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God's, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors. (The Message)

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