Dear friends, prayer-writers, and sermonizers:
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday include Second Thessalonians 3:6-13, which says in summary:
When we were with you…with toil and labor
we worked night and day so that we might not
burden any of you. For even when we were with you,
we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling
to work should not eat. (NRSV)
We’ve heard a similar message repeated in political debates over unemployment benefits, food stamps, and other so-called “entitlement” programs coordinated by our state and federal governments. It’s hard for me to hear 2 Thessalonians 3 without also hearing the condemning tone of those persons (not just politicians!) who view poverty as an indication of character flaw or idleness.
But! When we marry this passage with the whole of scripture (including Sunday’s gospel text of Luke 21:5-19, in which Jesus warns listeners against trusting their security to institutions and popularity, preceded in verses 1-4 with Jesus’ acclamation of the widow’s meager offering) … when we place “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” within the context of the Bible’s good news that God has a soft spot for those who are hungry and poor … then 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 takes on a decidedly different tone!
When we spent time with you and got to know
the joys & stresses of your lives, we saw that life
is not always easy for you. Therefore we worked
even though we had plenty, because it would not be
fair for you — amidst your struggles — to give up
your daily bread in order for us to feast. And we did not
spend our days pointing out your flaws or scolding
your lifestyles, but instead worked in solidarity with you
to ease the pressures that build up against you.
Learn from us: do not ask others to sacrifice
their very lives and health so that you can
live comfortably in the status quo (and more!).
Our work — like our faith — is not meant
for personal comfort & gain, but for
the well-being of all people.
Therefore, do not be unwilling to work
in such a way that others are blessed.
I invite us to bring new ears to Second Thessalonians 3, and to set aside the judgment that we hear and the judgment that we may hold ourselves. Take pen and paper, and write a prayer for those who are out of work and those who are out of food. Then find a way to invest your time, your work and your spirit in the efforts to relieve hunger and poverty.
Blessings and peace,