The Christian faith is never lived, taught or preached in a vacuum. There is always an alternative to it: another philosophy, another religion, another ideal. “I see that you have many gods,” Paul noted when he looked around first-century Athens, and indeed the Greeks had a god for everything: for wealth, beauty, fertility, immortality, warfare and more.
Imagine being a single parent who works as a nursing assistant at a hospital. You love your job, though your wages are only $9.50 per hour. The hospital gives you health insurance for yourself, but not your two children. Health insurance for your children would cost $200 more per month—which you can’t afford. The worst thing about your job is your schedule.
One of my seminary teachers once said that if you can’t think of anything original to preach, you should tell Bible stories—they have enough power to turn people’s hearts toward God. This may not work with every text, but it certainly works with the drama and wisdom of the story of Naboth and the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears.
The story of the widow’s mite offers a profound contrast between two types of temple worshipers. But we often misinterpret the reason for Christ’s comparison. He is not preaching a lesson in personal piety and sacrificial giving—although pastors like to use this story during stewardship campaigns. It is critical that we hear instead an indictment of the preference we show to the rich and successful.
The working poor as society's greatest philanthropists
Aug 08, 2006
They serve us at restaurants; they trim our lawns; they clean our houses and hotel rooms; they take our money at convenience stores. They are the minimum-wage earners, who, if their state’s minimum isn’t higher, are paid just $5.15 an hour. At 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, that amounts to $10,700 annually—nearly $6,000 less than the federal poverty line for a family of three.
In the mid-1980s I attended a church that still honored “Money Sunday,” a practice begun in the 1950s. Once a year members of the congregation gathered to make financial pledges to support missions efforts. As the pledges were collected, the minister would read the amounts aloud from the pulpit: “Here’s one for $50. . . . Here’s another for $100 and one for $1,000!” Occasionally a pledge came in for, say, $10,000, eliciting all sorts of approving oohs and aahs from the congregation.
Americans are, or at least claim to be, a Christian people. Almost 80 percent of us, including President Bush, practice Christianity in some form. Bush has openly stated that Jesus is his favorite philosopher and that “we ought to love our neighbor like we love our self, as manifested in public policy.” Yet the president is leading our tax policy far from God’s moral compass.
We live in a new racial time in the U.S., and we still lack adequate language to describe it and visions to inspire us. Forty years after the civil rights movement, fresh voices are desperately needed.