Begging bread? God’s promise to the righteous in Psalm 37:25

Two city street children in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Two city street children begging in Antananarivo, Madagascar

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.

Abortion and the optimism of grace

african_amer_dad_kiss_babyI remember the moment when I first heard the word “abortion.” It was 1979 in Mrs. Ruch’s 10th grade English class and it was student debate day. In a twist on “show and tell,” my female classmate arguing against abortion brought pictures. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. From that day forward, I knew that abortion was to be avoided.

Theologians speak of the “optimism of grace.” But what does it have to contribute to the topic of abortion? The grace described in Scripture extends to all individuals. There is no nook or cranny of God’s creation where God’s seeking grace is not actively present! It reaches to the condemned prisoner on death row, to the woman unhappily pregnant, and to the developing child in her womb. The Psalmist’s words celebrate this pervasive presence of God:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;
 you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

– Psalm 139:7-16 (NIV, bolding added)

The Christmas story recounts how God used a baby to answer the cries of the downtrodden, people suffering under the crushing dual burden of oppression and sin. The incarnation – God taking on flesh – was a rescue plan. Jesus was Immanuel, literally “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The LORD saw a dilemma and devised a solution. To solve problems, God uses people. In the case of Mary, God used an unwed mother in shameful circumstances to change the course of human history.

Environmentalists speak eloquently of deforestation as the destruction of cures for diseases known and yet unknown. When we clear-cut rain forest, we are destroying forever undiscovered medicines that one day could have cured cancer or a hundred other ailments.

Why is it what we understand about the earth’s natural resources we are blind to when it comes to human resources? In the United States, among the 55 million unborn children aborted since Roe v. Wade became law in January 1973, it is sobering to think of the immense lost potential. Yes, some would have become criminals; let’s not be naive. That is the human condition in a fallen world. Yet others would have been painters, sculptors, teachers, inventors, nurses, plumbers, and carpenters. Perhaps a half-dozen Nobel Prize winners never saw the light of day, the “smoldering wicks” (Isaiah 42:3) that God intended to fan into bright and blazing fires. How many intractable problems persist because the solutions we so long prayed for – creative solutions that God was sending our way in the form of babies – were short-circuited in the womb?

The optimism of grace is really the optimism of love. It says that no matter what mistakes any of us have made – including abandoning our responsibility as would-be dads and moms – there is a place of beginning again! None of us is so broken that Jesus can’t bind up our wounds. And as Jesus brings healing and forgiveness, each of us is part of his restoration team. Are we willing to put an arm of comfort around those who mourn poor choices? Are we willing to be practical support for each other in community solidarity? As Reuben Welch used to preach, “We really do need each other.”

Abortion is the tragic failure of imagination. Together, we can do better.

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Photo credit: Smart Beginnings