I belong to an ecumenical Tuesday morning clergy group that gathers to talk and study the lectionary lessons for the coming Sunday. Sometimes it’s more talk than study, and that’s OK.
Recently we worried over that portion of 2 Thessalonians where Paul commanded that those who don’t work don’t eat, which he prefaced by condemning idlers, testifying to his own hard self supporting work, and encouraging all to work quietly. Now, you can exegete and parse that out anyway you want, the fact remains that it’s one of those “Aha, I told you so, it’s right there in the bible: you don’t work you don’t eat” passages that seems to endorse solid libertarian politics in opposition to the welfare state, especially welfare for the lazy good for nothings who feed at the tax payers’ trough.
How, as a pastor, are you going to handle that?
I don’t think a sophisticated theological argument based on a systematic examination of scripture, even if limited to 2 Thessalonians, will do much good. Most of the people sitting in the pews understand the Christian faith, the bible, and the denomination in which they worship with little more than a superficial Sunday School education. They’re always impressed with their pastor’s erudition, particularly when she tosses in a few Greek words, but it doesn’t change their politics. They know what they know, and what they know is anchored more deeply in cultural prejudice than in scripture, which, as is the custom, is best used to support cultural bias anyway.
I wish I knew what would make a difference, but just a day ago I was a gathering of some of the more wealthy people in town. One person at our table wondered if society has a moral responsibility to see that effective health care is available to all, and the response was a horrified no. That’s just code talk for (gasp) socialized medicine that takes goods and services away from people who can and do pay for them through hard work, and gives them away to the (lazy) poor. In another setting, an acquaintance asserted that the relatively few deserving poor could, and should, be taken care of by the churches and other local non profits. A few days before that I was with a small group that shared their first hand knowledge of food stampers who a) sold their benefits for cash to buy drugs, b) bought unapproved goodies and beer, c) took out good food but kept junk when it was clear they could not pay for everything. When pressed for details it became clear that they a) were repeating rumors, b) easily generalized from one reported incident, c) assumed that food stampers needed to be treated with suspicion and closely monitored.
I don’t know where one can gain traction with mind sets like that. In its Wit & Wisdom column, the November 15 issue of The Week cited Henry Rosovsky as having said, “Never underestimate the difficulty of changing false beliefs by facts.”
What I do know is this, we pastors must be faithful in proclaiming the gospel in as profligate and promiscuous way as the sower of seeds in Jesus’ parable. Our job is to continue sowing the seeds that Christ sowed with no care about where they land or fear that we might run out. For what it’s worth, my seed sack is filled with a blend of Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commission salted with a bit of Matthew 25. What’s in yours?