Psalm 24, 29 (Morning)
Psalm 8, 84 (Evening)
Nehemiah makes an interesting statement from verses 14 to 19 in today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. He says that for twelve years, neither he nor his brothers ate all of the food allowance given to him because of his position. He chose this because the people who provided that food to him had been taxed excessively by his predecessors.
The Hebrew people appear to be suffering under not one, not two, but three social crises in this passage:
1) People are struggling to eat during a famine;
2) Because of the famine, those who owned land had to mortgage their properties; those without land had to sell their relatives into slavery; and
3) This widespread mortgaging of land and selling relatives off into bondage, was also, in part, related to exorbitant interest on loans people were taking out to pay taxes levied by Artaxerxes, the Persian king (who is also Nehemiah’s boss.)
In short, it was pretty much a deficit economy.
Nehemiah steps in and lays down the law in a few places, as governor. He basically says, “Stop the usury, restore to people what is theirs, and that includes the interest.” However, he also knows it’s not a mark of real leadership to simply tell others to do things–he has to lead by example. His example, in not using his full food allotment, is to make do with less. Yet he still manages to feed the large household demand of the governor’s office even with less.
Fast forward to today.
In the last month or so, I’ve been watching the social media action surrounding friends, churches, and celebrities attempting Feeding America’s SNAP Challenge, and it has intrigued me. I’ve even considered the possibility myself of living within the food budget of the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator during Lent, as my spiritual discipline for that season. I think it’s an excellent way to gain a new kind of awareness of what poverty means in this country.
However, I’m embarrassed to tell you why I recognized doing that might be a good discipline. At our last parish food drive, as we were totaling up the cans and boxes to take to the local food bank, I suddenly realized I no longer know the prices of staple items off the top of my head. Neither did one of my friends. We both mused, “How did we get this way?” Neither of us had a lot of money when we were young. We both had to scrape to make ends meet. But there we were, completely unaware of the cost of a can of corn or a box of dry pasta. I can remember decades ago, cruising down the grocery aisles, adding things up in my head as I went, making sure I didn’t go over the amount of money I had with me, or had budgeted for the trip to the store. It was not unusual for me to go to the store with a fistful of coupons, either, in those days. How did I get from that to my present state of grocery-cluelessness?
Our reading today drives home an important point. We cannot fully engage poverty and despair unless we are willing enough to be open to finding ways to put ourselves in the shoes of others. We can’t fully understand the places where we have invisible privilege unless we give some of it away.
What are additional ways you can discover that help us follow Nehemiah’s lead, and learn to understand the plight of others by becoming more vulnerable?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid