Where is our love for the poor?

Exodus 22, 20-26 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 5c-10 + Matthew 22, 34-40

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The concern of the Law of Moses for the rights of the poor is a startling contrast to modern attitudes. What's the going loan interest rate at pawn shops? Generally 240% per annum. For "pay day loans" -- loans guaranteed by a post-dated check -- it's 651% per annum. Can you imagine the howls of protest from credit card holders if a bank tried to charge that interest rate? Can you imagine how fast they would send a multitude of letters to legislators demanding that this abuse be curbed by law? How deafening is the silence of those same credit card holders regarding the scandal of interest rates in the poor neighborhoods. Such usurious rates even have their defenders -- economists, bankers, and stockholders of pawn shop and other such loan operations, among others.

In modern America, instead of loving the poor, we demonize them, slander them, and punish them with our regressive tax systems (which favor the rich). We think nothing of causing the cry of the "widow and the fatherless" to rise to heaven. Now is probably a good time to mention that the ancient Hebrew and Greek words that are typically translated as "widow" actually mean "a woman with children but no husband", not simply a woman whose husband has died. Note that this is not an opinion without foundation, it is attested by virtually all commentators as lexigraphical resources. I've heard plenty of people say, "Well, I don't begrudge the widows anything, but those lazy welfare mothers, that's another story."

Jesus reminds us that while religion may get complicated, it comes down to two things: Love God with all your heart, might, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. These two commandments are inseparable. If you aren't doing the second, you aren't doing the first. Nobody who hates their neighbor can say that they love God.

It sounds so easy, but it isn't. We think we'd be better off with a list of one thousand and one do's and don'ts. Instead, Jesus says "Love God and love your neighbor." Sigh. Whine. My neighbor? That welfare mother on the other side of town? That stranger from another country who is "illegally" resident in this state? That corporate greed merchant who ruthlessly exploits the poor? Those aren't my neighbors, we think, my neighbors look like me, act like me, talk like me, go to my church, and belong to the better clubs. But that's not what Jesus said -- remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? In this age, millions of people have dismissed the idea that the poor are included in the term "neighbors." Instead, we see the poor as objects to be manipulated and exploited: people like making 651% per annum on their money, and the politicians like the contributions such people make. That's why the maximum interest on credit cards is limited, but the maximum interest on "payday" and pawnshop loans isn't.

The deafening silence about this injustice tells us how much we love the poor, and how well we are doing in re "love God with all your heart, might, mind, and soul."

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