“Make No Preference for the Poor or the Rich, but Judge Your Neighbor Fairly”.

“Make No Preference for the Poor or the Rich, but Judge Your Neighbor Fairly”. Leviticus 19:15  (source and version unknown)
There is someone I know who recently told me that we should have no preference for the poor because of this statement above. It

was because of this statement that she believed that the church was in error in what it was teaching.

They went on to say that all of the food pantries were not helping. That there were people who had been coming to the food pantry

for decades and still were coming.  “One person did not even speak enough English to say “Thank You”.. After 10 YEARS ! ” they

said.

They further went on to say that the Bible also says ” If that one does not work neither should that one eat ” (2 Thessalonians

3:10 reference) and they were sure that we perpetuated the issues with the those who just refused to work and had no desire to

change.
Not only the Church universal, but all religious orders, and Franciscans in particular have a love of poverty and a preference for

the poor.

I wanted to begin by saying that it is GOOD for us to take the time to re-examine our beliefs from time to time, to look at things

in new lights, and circumstances as this gives us the opportunity to learn new things, to refresh old ideas and revisit our faith

and its application in all things, and in all circumstances.

In order to put things in proper perspective, and get the true meanings behind scripture there needs to be an understanding of a

few things.  The literary style, the genre, the point of scripture in the context of the conversation, action and history of what

is going on at the time.

Far too often, people will quote parts of scripture to attempt to prove a point, however, taken in context the scripture is

incomplete or misleading without the context within which it is given.

To make a point, in the first case, where the person involved stated that we should ” make no preference for the poor or the rich

but judge your neighbor fairly”  looks a little different given a different translation. For instance in one of my very first

Bibles (The Jerusalem Bible copyright 1968 Doubleday ) the scripture reads ”  You must not be guilty of unjust verdicts.  You must

neither be partial to the little man, nor over-awed by the great; you must pass judgement on your neighbor according to justice”.
This translation makes sense according to the background story of what is occurring.  T

The statement is part of a conversation where God is speaking to Moses.  Within this conversation God is going through a laundry

list of items that are effectively the 10 commandments with a number of other restrictions thrown in for good measure.  It is a

list of rules necessary for how it is that the children of Israel should act and carry themselves, and care for one another.

The quote above is part of the list of jurisprudence, or how it is that the community will judge right and wrong within the

community. In this point it is saying that you should make fair and equitable judgements about an issue before you not based on

the circumstances of the people involved, but to judge fairly according to the facts. It has nothing to do with loving the poor.
In the second case, the Apostle Paul was attempting to get the Thessalonian house in order.  Time, place and context are important

in this reading. apparently there were a few things going on in 2nd Thessalonians where in Chapter 2, there were people who

believed that the second coming of Christ was at hand.  So much did they believe this that there were some who just quit working

in order to prepare because it was imminent and so the need of farm work was futile if they were going to be taken up to Heaven.
Then there was the other group, who apparently were being the gossips and story tellers of the day.

Paul told them as part of this chastisement that when he came to Thessalonica that he did not live off the church in that town, he

worked in the fields beside his brothers and sisters  and earned his keep.   He was admonishing these people to go back to their

farms and work because the second coming was not imminent.

To be clear these people HAD work, these people HAD jobs, they had all they needed, they just needed to go back to them and pick

up their lives where they had been dropped before.
Now that we have dealt with the initial argument and statements this leaves us with the responsibility to look within.   We have

to ask how WE feel about the poor ?   How do we believe about the poor ?  When we see the poor who are on the  roadside begging what goes through our minds, and through our hearts ?  Do we think they are there because of their own choices ?  As a punishment, or as a consequence of their own poor judgement ?   Do we turn away because of how they look, or how they speak, or smell ?
Do we feel offended by the poor in our midst ?

Consider what is left for us in James 2:8 “Well, the right thing to do is to keep the supreme law of scripture : You must love your neighbor as yourself  – but as soon as you make distinctions based on classes of people, you are committing sin, and under condemnation for breaking the Law.” then goes on to say in James 2:13 ” Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom.  -because there will be judgement without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves; but the merciful need have no fear of judgement”.

Finally, Deuteronomy 15:7 ” Is there a poor man among you, one of your brothers , in any town of yours in the land that God your God is giving you ?  Do not harden your heart  or close your hand against that poor brother of yours, but be open-handed with him and lend him enough for his needs.  Do not allow this mean thought in your heart….When you give to him, you must give with an open heart, for this God your God will bless you in all you do and in all your giving.  Of course there will never cease to be poor in the land.  I command you therefore: ALways be open-handed  with your brother and with anyone in your country who is in need and poor”.
There is a virtual wealth of places within scripture where we are instructed to care for the poor.  The church shares with us the corporal works of mercy.

Lastly, our brothers and sisters never cease to be our brothers and sisters because of circumstance or even because of action or omission.  Do sinners stop being brothers and sisters because of sin ?  If that were the case, there would be no one in the churches.  Instead they are full of people who are sinners.  Thank God for the sinners.

It is because of the light, that we know the darkness.
May God give you the gift of His peace !

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