It’s a sweeping statement from King David: “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25, NRSV).
What did David mean?
The context of the passage quoted helps us understand what David was saying. Psalm 37 contrasts the lot of the “wicked” with the “righteous” or the “blameless.” Do the wicked prosper? Only temporarily, affirms David. “The LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees their day is coming” (v.13). The “arms” of the wicked shall be “broken” (v.17). Like a pasture can have “glory” for a time, so the wicked may as well, but they will “vanish” like smoke (v.20). They shall be “cut off” (v.22).
If the wicked won’t endure, the opposite is true for the righteous. They shall “inherit the land” (v.22). Even in famine they will have “abundance” (v.20). They will “give liberally” and be able to lend, their children becoming a blessing (v.26).
Two things come to mind when reflecting on this passage:
1. Redemption and lift – Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV). If you want to determine what a person values – where their “heart” is – look at how she spends her money. Helen had been a chain smoker for years. When she came to Christ, God broke her desire for cigarettes. “Pastor,” she said, “the money I would have spent on cigarettes, I’m going to put into my change purse.” A year later, Helen had enough for a trip to Hawaii. When money is no longer going down the drain at the neighborhood bar or being wasted on gambling, it’s now available for the family budget. Christians call this “redemption and lift.” God re-orients our value system, meaning some of the leaks in our financial boat get plugged.
2. The solidarity of the community of faith – I can’t read Psalm 37 without thinking about Acts 2:44-47 (NRSV):
All who believed were together and had everything in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day as they spent much time together in the Temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
When I was in high school, our church youth group took a trip to one of the colleges sponsored by our denomination. For three days, we competed in sports and talent competitions. Before dinner one night, without thinking, I slipped my wallet into the pocket of my jacket, then hung the jacket on the coat rack outside the cafeteria. After dinner, my heart sank when I realized my wallet (and with it the $ 50.00 inside that I’d carefully saved up for the trip) had been stolen. Later that night back at the hotel, there was a knock on the door. Roger, my youth pastor, came in and handed me an envelope. I opened it up, and inside was $ 50.00. I couldn’t believe it! Had he found my money? “No,” he said. “But when I told the others in the youth group about your loss, they all wanted to take up a collection for you.” That generous gift of solidarity meant so much to me! I felt loved.
How do we as a church measure up to Acts 2:44-47? Are there practical ways that we could help each other? If the children of the righteous avoid begging bread, it will be because the community of faith has taken care of her own, seeing needs in the Body and responding in Christlike ways. Instead of making loans to each other – loans that cause division when repayment is delayed – how about if we simply say:
I’m giving you this small amount, but it’s not a loan. It’s a gift. You don’t have to pay it back to me, and let’s never speak of it again. All I ask is that you keep your eyes open, and if one day you see someone else in the church who has a similar need, give to them with the same simple conditions.
The “pay it forward” concept is powerful. As we exercise it inside and outside the church, it will commend the Gospel to those who are not yet followers of Christ.
King David rejoiced that he had never seen the children of the righteous having to beg for bread. If this was true, then surely it was not accidental. Putting God at the center of our lives means that wasteful practices will wither away. A holy frugality will take its place. Likewise, we cannot love God without loving our neighbor (1 John 4:20), whether that neighbor is already or not yet part of the community of Christian faith. Let’s pray that God will give us eyes to see like God sees and hands to do what God wants us to do.