How Can You Mean This?

MatthewdIt is claimed that Susan B. Anthony once said something like this: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

I’ve noticed the same thing. Have you ever know anyone to say in their defense: “I myself wouldn’t have a problem with THAT, but the Bible says that God is against it, so I must follow God first.”

Meanwhile in Congress, the GOP is intent upon cutting SNAP by 40 BILLION dollars. All the while, a significant number of them are receiving PERSONALLY tens of millions of dollars in farm subsidies. You see, we must do this they claim, because these people who are receiving free food are lazy, they are becoming a “take” culture, while they themselves are simply being given some help, ironically in the food production arena, to keep America’s food shelves healthy and full.

Mathewwrong

And do you know what they claim is their moral justification for what they do? Why it is Paul’s statement in Thessalonians:

“In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”

They do not of course answer the burning question of “where are the jobs”, a bellowing demand they make of this President every week, if not every day. Yet, someone people should starve because those who receive food assistance are undoubtedly unwilling to work. Work at what, they don’t say.

Yet of course all this is so much a lie. Forty-seven percent of all recipients are children under 18. Eight percent are seniors. Forty-one percent live in households where someone works full or part-time. Less than 10% of recipients receive any other type of assistance. Nobody speaks louder or more clear than the GOP when it comes to veterans. Yet over 900,000 veterans currently receive SNAP.

Those are the facts.

What of the moral argument?

It too is utter nonsense and bespeaks the usual literalist reading of scripture that these fundamentalists indulge in.

I have some personal experience here for I’ve talked with a number of people who I’ve known since childhood who tell me all about Paul’s statement in defense of their agreement with Republican goals to cut SNAP funding. They of course first start by telling me of their personal anecdotes, stories of acquaintances or relatives who get assistance and either brag or are “known” not to really need it. This is almost immediately followed by complaints that “I’m tired of working so hard for these freeloaders. My taxes are already through the roof because of Obama.” (Note that taxes in general have gone down under President Obama’s administration, but of course people believe what they want to perpetuate the myth they are living with.)

Then of course comes the scripture. “Even Paul said that those who do not work shall not eat” This is often followed by the incredulous statement that “Everyone knows that Jesus was against government!”

So there we have it. Jesus doesn’t like government and so as all  fundamentalists tell me, these things should be left up to the Church. Yes. Well, nothing is preventing the “Church” from taking on the job. Nothing has been preventing them from doing so for over two thousand years. Somehow or other, they haven’t gotten the job done. So please don’t tell me the Church should do it.

And the thing from Paul? Well, IF one were to actually read Paul with some understanding of what his letters are about, one might get a clue that this is not a statement that should EVER be taking literally.

Looking first at Paul’s overall theology, it is clear that he, like many others in the movement, expected the return of the Lord within their own lifetimes. Indeed, in his first letter to them, he calms them and reassures them that those “who are still alive for the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have fallen asleep.” (1Thess 4:15) Much of Paul’s teaching on marriage for instance is based on his believe that the Lord would return within most of their lifetimes. Thus he counsels that those who can maintain celibacy, should not marry. Those who find it difficult should marry rather than engage in promiscuity.

Secondly,  it is not completely accepted that 2Thessalonians, from which the “no work, no eat” comes from, was actually written by Paul. Be that as it may, Paul is writing again to Thessaloniki because a crisis has arisen. Indeed, many of Paul’s letters are in response to crisis within the believing community. New people sometimes arrive with new teachings, something teachers get off on tangents. In other words, Thessaloniki is in crisis.

The crisis is quite obvious and is stated in the letter itself: Someone is telling the people in the community that the day of the Lord’s arrival has actually come!

“. . . Please do not be too easily thrown into confusion or alarmed by any manifestation of the Spirit or any statement or any letter claiming to come from us, suggesting that the Day of the Lord has already arrived.”(2Thess 2:2)

This is what has caused the problem. People are in panic. There is conflict. As is the case in all the cities, the household churches are supported financially by the more wealthy members. It seems that some in the community are no longer working, and are looking for the Lord to appear, and simply living off the largess of the wealthier among them. Paul says this must stop. According to him, there are various things that must transpire before the Lord returns, and these have not occurred. Everyone is to return to normal activities. Return to calm. Go back to your jobs and your normal pursuits.

What is pathetic in this use of a single sentence out of context, is that even to the most limited of readers, the context should seem most clear. Paul is not out of the blue announcing that it is a teaching of Christ that that no one who fails to work shall not eat.

This flies in the face of Matthew 25 which says something quite different:

Mathew25aThis is the great teaching of Christ.

This is what needs be followed by all who would claim the name of Christian.

While we keep these writings about scripture and faith, we urge readers to contact their congress person and demand that the cuts in SNAP be restored.

Surely we are better than this.

Amen.

Matthewc

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NO Work. NO Food?

I always listen with sadness as some Christians I have spoken to, cite passages such as we hear in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, specifically, 3: 7-12.

 In it Paul admonishes the fledgling “church” not to feed those who refuse to work. My fundamentalist friends have interpreted this to mean that God doesn’t intend there to be “government-run welfare, whether it be food, health care, or housing.

I am told that God means for his believers to engage in acts of charity to “worthy” needy as a means to fulfill their commitment to the Gospel–thus working out their individual salvations.

No amount of explaining that these passages refer to no such thing is heard. When one claims that one’s own personal interpretation is what God intends, then of course, we are free to interpret in a fashion that absolves us of guilt at our desire not to pay taxes for the necessities of others. Of course, no such Christian would claim that that is what they are doing, but of course it is, for we all are guided more by unconscious fears and desires that any of us care to admit.

Paul, of course, is speaking to something quite specific here. Read back to chapter two of the letter, and you discover that Thessalonica is plagued, as were many of the early communities, with differences of opinion. 

 Jesus, many claim, and certainly Paul and most of the Apostles, believed, that the End Times were close at hand. This is clear from most of his letters as well as parts of Acts. The assumption is that the Lord’s return would be occurring within the lifetime of most of the Apostles.

This proved not to be the case of course. But even for Paul, he did not think this meant that the community “communism” that existed in some of the earliest churches was a license to stop working and making a living. He was all too conscience that Jesus had been clear: even he did not know the day or the hour.

Paul is here telling the Thessalonians that if some in the community don’t feel that they need work because the end is coming any day, then they should not share in the common meals. They should be denied this when they deliberately failed to contribute, as others were, to the purchase of food, bread and wine.

This certainly is the explanation given by most experts in biblical studies. That it is the considered opinion of the Church is also clear. Why?

Because coupled with that reading in this thirty-third week in ordinary time, is that of Luke 21:5-19. Indeed, Jesus reminds them, that even where there appear to be signs of the coming of the end, “the end still will not come at once.”

This then informs us that Paul was indeed admonishing his community, not to refuse to take care of the needy, but rather not to allow their resources to be abused by others in the community who had decided that the end was upon them and further work was unnecessary.

They were like those groups throughout history that have given away all they own and gone to stand upon hill tops, awaiting the rapture, misled by preachers who assured them that the end was going to occur at midnight on some date. Only those whose faith was strong enough to give away their homes and belongings would find God’s grace upon them.

Those Christians who use passages such as Paul’s to ignore their responsibility to care for the poor for their own selfish needs, would do well to remember Matthew 25 wherein Christ reminded us that what we do for the least of his children, we do for and to him. He nowhere told us to personally examine the worthiness of anyone in need to determine whether they were truly helpless or only lazy.

This is surely the implication behind those who are against universal health care, and holding the government accountable to provide basic necessities to all its citizens. The implication is that some people aren’t worthy, they are simply lazy and willing to feed off others. That may be, and no doubt there are those who are perhaps willing to live very basic lives for free.

I submit, that common sense suggests there are few of these. I submit that Jesus calls us to be neighbor to each other, to love, to forgive, and to care for each other. It is a mis-use of scripture to claim otherwise.

Amen.

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