A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, November 24, 2006

As We Give Thanks

This weekend, as many of us gather around the table, blessed with family and friends and freedom from want, I am casting my mind toward those who are not as fortunate.

I particularly would like to address my next remarks to Mr. Cashew, my young colleague, who was dismayed about the recent increase of the minimum wage in this state.

The obligation to aid the poor is enshrined in the same Scripture you use to support many of your very loud political positions. There are 170 uses of the word "poor" in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. For instance:

Deuteronomy 15: 7-11-- "If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart, and you say, `The seventh year, the year of release is near,' and your eye be hostile to your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and it be sin in you. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land."

Deuteronomy 24: 14-15-- "You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his wage on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the LORD, and it be sin in you.

The poor and the requirement to defend them are mentioned 23 timed in the Psalms alone. Psalm 112 is subtitled, "Blessings of the Righteous." Please note how the Psalm ends in verses 9-10. Referring to the Righteous one: "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever; his horn is exalted in honor. The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked man comes to nought."

Psalm 113, subtitled" God, the Helper of the Needy," is very explicit in verses 7-8: "He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people."

Proverbs 13:23 states: "The fallow ground of the poor yields much food, but it is swept away through injustice," and chapter 14:20-21 states: "The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. He who despises his neighbor is a sinner, but happy is he who is kind to the poor."

Proverbs 22:16 states: "He who oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to want."

And what does the New Testament say?
Remember the story of the Rich Young man in Matthew 19? In verse 21: "Jesus said to him, 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'"

And of course, the poor are expected to work: Proverbs 20:13, 21:17, 23:17; 30:9 are all very explicit. That's who a minimum wage would help.

And by the way, you yourself have benefitted from the protection of a minimum wage when you became a teacher. Did I not hear you complain and moan about the privations you suffered receiving the salary set for a first-year teacher? And yet your "socialist" minimum wage that year was many times over what the working poor receive as they work their jobs. And you had parents who paid every penny of your college costs, too. Some people do not have these things.

Our economic health is, rightly or wrongly, measured by spending. Higher wages = more spending. Including at the small businesses that claim that they are hurt by increasing the minimum wage.

Let's try to make sure that next Thanksgiving, there are more people who do not suffer want in this very wealthy country.

10 Comments:

At 11/24/06, 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done Ms. C!
I hope a a happy Thanksgiving was had by you and yours..

 
At 11/24/06, 4:29 PM, Blogger Francie said...

Amen!

 
At 11/24/06, 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do like the Bible and it's defense of the poor. That is something that set Judaism apart in the ancient near east, an obligation to the poor and oppressed... it is also interesting that from the Old Testament is born the idea of modern ethics... some great examples you have cited.

Do enjoy the weekend.

Oh, and btw, I agree 100% with an increase in the minimum wage, though more and more in my state (Texas) many employers start much higher than any increase would give.

 
At 11/25/06, 1:17 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

...which just goes to show how inadequate the current minimum wage really is.

Many people justify the low minimum wage by claiming that these jobs are unskilled. Sure they are-- but we still need them done. But a person can't work all day, sometimes at two and three jobs, and still fail to obtain the basic necessities of life. Not in a country in which other people make hundreds of millions of dollars as their companies hemorrhage red ink.

And you are absolutely right about the emphasis on justice for the poor in the Torah and Prophets.

 
At 11/26/06, 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you will notice, all of those biblical passages admonish us to help the poor in an individual capacity, i.e. charity. Nowhere that I know of in the bible, does it instruct the government to forcibly take from one person to give to another, which is what you are advocating.

Remember, a government that takes from Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul. George Bernard Shaw (a socialist) said that.

BTW, I loved your post on what to tell students who ask how they can improve their grade.

Keep on blogging.

 
At 11/28/06, 11:29 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thanks, Chanman.

I am intrigued by and am pondering your point quite seriously.

The broader context of these verses makes clear that these contain an imperative for society. These were rules for the community, imposed by an authority even more awesome than any human government.

Beyond that, I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to shape government according to our principles. I believe that, in our society, citizens do not exist at the mercy of government-- it is not an entirely external force. Rather we, as voters, have a duty and responsibility which cannot be shirked to create a government which reflects these principles which we claim guide us. Thus, basically, I refuse to view government as an "enemy"-- if it is wrong, we the citizens must act to make it better. And that includes ensuring justice for our fellow-citizens who are working to make a decent living for themselves.

In a democracy-- that is what we claim to be, since we are trying to disseminate that concept into Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere-- if the government is flawed, it is because we citizens have not exercised due diligence in guiding it. The good news is, we can fix that.

 
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