Thursday, June 19, 2014
Lessons from the Margins
God has always been on the side of the marginalized. He made provisions for the most vulnerable of society in the Hebrew scriptures; people at the margins. Here are a few examples: Deuteronomy 10:18: He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. Deuteronomy 24:19: When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. Deuteronomy 24:20: When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.
Things don’t change when we read the New Testament. In Matthew 25 we read about the marginalized: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The “least of these” are the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison, the naked, the stranger and the sick. These are people at the margins, people who too often are ignored by the rest of us. When we relate to these people we relate to Jesus.
Jesus often rebukes establishment people and lifts up people at the margins. Just two stories illustrate this. The first comes from the beginning of Luke 21: “He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’”
Here the poor widow was certainly living at the margins, while the rich people were part of the establishment. The rich establishment people looked down on the poor widow as someone to be pitied; someone at the margins. Yet Jesus praises the poor widow while he rebukes the wealthy. The poor woman is attached to God rather than her material possessions. From her marginalization, Jesus teaches us a lesson.
Or consider the story recorded in Luke 18:10: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The tax collector, even though he is rich, is marginalized in the eyes of the Jewish establishment because he has sold out to the Roman oppressors. Yet Jesus calls him blessed, or “justified,” because he humbled himself by recognizing his sinful state. The establishment Pharisee, who in Jewish society has everything stacked in his favor and can look down on people on the margins, is rebuked. The tax collector recognized that he had to give up control of his ego and his life in order to enter the Kingdom of God. This is another lesson from the margins.
We learn a lot from people at the margins. We find Jesus when we relate to people at the margins. Our lives are turned upside down when we relate to those at the margins. Like the poor widow and the tax collector, we learn to depend on God, to humble ourselves and to be grateful instead of resentful.
How do you relate to people at the margins, and what spiritual lessons have you learned from them?