Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A required "letter of reference"

A Prophetic Mantra about the Poor

Fr. Ron Rolheiser

Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor! That's a quote attributed to James Forbes, an interdenominational pastor in New York City, and it wonderfully captures something that the ancient prophets of Israel underlined many centuries ago.

The great prophets of Israel had coined this mantra: The quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land. And the quality of justice in the land will always be judged by how "widows, orphans, and strangers" are faring while you are alive. That phrase, "widows, orphans, and strangers", was code for the three weakest, most-vulnerable, groups in society at the time. For the great prophets of Israel, ultimately we will be judged religiously and morally on the basis of how the poorest of the poor fared while we were alive.

That's a scary thought which becomes scarier when we see how Jesus strongly endorsed that view. While this needs to be contextualized within Jesus' message as a whole, we have in Matthew's Gospel the famous text about the Last Judgment where Jesus tells us that, at the end of day, when we stand before the great King on the day of judgment, we will be asked only one set of questions and they all will have to do with how we treated the poor: Did you feed the hungry? Give drink to the thirsty? Welcome the stranger? Clothe the naked? Visit the sick? Visit prisoners? I doubt that any of us would have the raw courage to preach this, just as it is written in the gospels, from any pulpit today. And yet Jesus meant it. Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.

Now there's a whole series of challenges in this.

To read on, click here!


Chris said...

"Whenever the title 'father' is received and allowed, there is also a sinful implication of the authority of such persons and of the deference due their opinions regarding religious questions."

Burton Coffman

Anonymous said...

So, Chris, I take it you don't agree that there is "one set of questions."

The moral emptiness you put on display is astounding.

Jeff W

Anonymous said...

While I defininitely believe in helping the poor, I believe we are not saved by works.

Chris said...

Sorry I'm so morally empty, will try to do better.

I would like some practical suggestions on how to do these things for someone who does not earn his living in this way. My husband is in prison ministry-- check, we visit the sick--check, we give to the church--check.

We both had a working life of 40 plus years. We raised our two children. We paid for our house which is no mansion, it is very modest. We saved and invested, which in these days is not that reliable. Now what would you have us do, Larry, invite a homeless person in our guest room? Give to the begger on the street? Work in a soup kitchen?

Suggestions please. I am serious.

Larry James said...

Thanks, Chris. I really appreciate what I know is a sincere question. So,
1) support policy that helps people get jobs
2) Support quality public education rather than pull back from it
3) Support efforts to expand health care to families who are very poor
4) Come see me in Dallas! I want to meet you and show you what we are trying to do.

I love you, my friend. And this is just a start. . .mainly don't support movements to disinvest from poor communities. . .

Anonymous said...

Wonderful quote!

I don't understand the reference to not being "saved by works." I did not understand the quote to be about "works." Rather, I understand it to be about "where your [money/action/effort] is, there will your heart be also." And if your heart is not God's ... Why do people constantly turn a desire that it be "on Earth as it is in heaven" into being about "works"?

"Sinful implication of authority" in a simple title? That's just weird. And I notice it's just asserted, not backed up.

Please excuse my saying so, but both of these statements seem like extreme Protestantitism (and I am Protestant).