Light and Salt – Justice for the Poor
Salt of the earth, light for the world – the essential calling of the disciple is to live a life that shines with the goodness of the Lord, a light that shines in the darkness, so those who see it understand the glory of the Father in heaven. (Mt 5:13-16) Jesus is very clear on this point. It’s useless to live in a way that hides the light of love from others or that does not season interactions with love and care for others, because then God’s glory can’t shine forth into the world of human social life.
This insight of Jesus was not unique to him. We often think that Jesus thought up most of what he taught, but actually, there is a long tradition in Judeo-Christian thinking that focuses on the interaction between those who have the necessities of life and the power that goes with it and those who do not.
The prophet Isaiah spoke very clearly of this (58:7-10), in words that many of us first heard spoken by Jesus about the final judgement in which the “sheep” would be separated from the “goats.” “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them…” These words of Isaiah were spoken to a people returning from exile in Babylon. To the extent that they created a new society in which justice and care for the poor and oppressed were foundational, the light of that society and its people would break forth like the dawn into the world. The Lord would be present among them and be a source of protection and healing for them. “Light shall rise for you in the darkness…”
This kind of life is not to be a source of pride for Jesus’ followers. It’s certainly not a message that is easily accepted in a world in which those with power don’t easily share resources with those who have nothing to give them in return. But as St. Paul points out (1 Cor 2L1-5), the persuasiveness of the message of the Gospel is the result of the demonstration of Spirit and power that flow from the positive change that the foolishness of the message and lifestyle produces. Doing hurtful things leads to anger and revenge – an intensification of the evil that provokes them. Doing good things for others leads to more goodness being shared.
How does this play out for us today? We have a lot of social safety nets that are intended to help protect and support those who for one reason or another are unable to earn the money needed for food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education for themselves and their families. These programs provide essential support to a lot of people that we might not ordinarily realize are struggling.
As an insurance professional specializing in health insurance, I hear a lot of stories from people struggling to keep food on the table and a roof overhead for themselves and their children. I often work with middle-class people who suddenly find their income crashing and discover that what they always took for granted is not guaranteed for all in this country. I explain how the social safety net works, based on my own experience with it, and encourage them that it’s not the end of the world if they need to move to Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California) for a period of time. I encourage them to look at the supplemental nutrition programs for their families (aka, food stamps) and to take advantage of the help, so that they have a chance of getting back on their feet. Sometimes I work with people who will never be able to support themselves, due to illness or injury, including mental illness or addiction. It is a great joy to me to be able to offer help to those who are despairing of ever living a “normal life” again. On more than one occasion, I have had people react with tears of joy to know that their prayers have been answered and help is available. Not a common experience in the insurance field.
And yet, there are still folks who have even less and don’t qualify for this governmental help. We think of refugees and asylum seekers in this category. It’s not easy for them to get along and figure out how the very different legal and socio-economic systems here work. Lots of people are involved in helping and offering a welcoming hand to these new arrivals.
Once they have been here for a while, there are still obstacles. I worked with a young person the other day who is a DACA recipient. They can’t get a policy through the Affordable Care Act marketplace because we as a nation have not yet come to terms with the fact that these young people are ours just as surely as if they had been born here. We have raised them and educated them and shared our dreams, visions, and expectations with them. They have jobs and businesses and are giving back to the country which raised them. And yet some of us still want to throw them out because their parents brought them here so they could be safe from the violence or oppression in their native communities. Fortunately, my young client was able to afford insurance outside of the subsidized plans. Not all are so fortunate.
How do we react to the discrepancies in income and opportunity in our country. Do we work to make sure the hungry have enough healthful food to live a decent life? Do we complain that a homeless person has been given a cell phone so they can get medical care and other essential services? Have you tried to find a pay-phone in a telephone booth lately? Without a cell phone, it’s next to impossible to access basic services if one does not have a home.
As you may have guessed by now, these are questions and issues about which I am rather passionate! I see too many folks on a daily basis who are struggling and I know the great blessing that having folks who are willing to share their bread with the hungry, to clothe the naked, and find homes for the homeless can be.
If you ever wonder about the wisdom of the Gospels and of efforts to help those who struggle, I encourage you to volunteer with others from your Church community or other social service programs. Get to know some of the folks who serve and some who are served. There’s a tremendous richness in the encounter and a deep, deep faith among those who have nothing but faith to hold onto.
“Light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday,” says Isaiah. “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father,” says Jesus.
Here we go on the journey together.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Sunday Mass at Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos, CARead More