Calls for compassion and charity dot the biblical record and inform the faith of most Christians and Jews.
Much less familiar to most believers are directives formed around an understanding of the "rights" or the "cause" of the poor.
Both terms imply that the poor among us are entitled to certain benefits due to life circumstances beyond their control that landed them in the predicament in which they find themselves. Further, the forces keeping them trapped in poverty are not only largely to blame, but should be opposed and, if possible, set aside by people of faith and action.
Consider a few examples.
"The righteous know the rights of the poor; the wicked have no such understanding." Proverbs 29:7
"It is not for kings. . .to drink wine, not for rulers to drink beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive the oppressed of their rights." Proverbs 31:5-6
"Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. . .defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31:8-9
"They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy." Jeremiah 5:28.
"May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor." Psalm 72:4
"I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor." Psalm 140:12
"Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them." Proverbs 22:22-23
"'Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the Lord." Jeremiah 22:15-16
The poor and the needy, the oppressed and the marginalized in a society have a case to present against those people, systems and forces that contribute to their state of need and despair. They have rights and are entitled to be heard.
Even more important, God takes up that case and God defends their rights.
This strong voice coming from the biblical record moves us well beyond charity and simple compassion as we consider our responses to poverty and the injustices that so often create and sustain it.
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