Archive for January 21st, 2010

A Poverty Story

“On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.  This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story.”[1]

This editorial from the New York Times has been haunting me all week.  A lot of us have been asking the question, “Why, God?” in response to the terrible earthquake in Haiti when perhaps the more important question(s) should be, Why is Haiti so poor?  Why didn’t Haiti have the infrastructure or the public services that could have saved thousands of lives?

These are pretty scary questions to ask.  They are scary because once you start delving into Haiti’s history you come to realize that this country is so poor because it has been so abused, terrorized, enslaved, oppressed, and neglected by the rest of the world.

Why is Haiti only coming to our attention now?  Why are we only forgiving Haiti’s national debt now, a debt that has required them to send 80% of their nation’s budget to other countries, a debt that has required them to make desperate cuts in health care services and education, a debt that has left them so desperate that the people are stripping the land of its trees and literally eating mud?

These are scary questions to ask.  I’m scared to ask them of myself.  I’m scared to ask them in front of my congregation.  But, scary or not, Jesus leads us to ask them.  Check out these timely words from this week’s Gospel text.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

Luke rearranges Mark’s chronology in order to place this text at the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry.  By doing this, Luke instructs readers to place this text as the central mission of Jesus’ teaching.  This is Jesus’ mission statement.  We learn here what Jesus expected of himself and his ministry.  He came to offer liberation to the poor and the oppressed.  He came to open our eyes to the needs of others.  He came preaching forgiveness of debts (proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor) and establishing a just society.

I am celebrating the fact that we are helping Haiti now.  I am celebrating the fact that the International Monetary Fund recently announced its intention to secure debt cancellation for Haiti, including cancellation of the IMF’s proposed $100 million loan for emergency assistance to the country.[2] I am celebrating the acts of compassion pouring out to Haiti during this time of tremendous need.  But I am also very aware of how unaware I was before this earthquake.  And I am also very aware (thanks to Jesus’ reminder this week) of my mission, my calling, to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, to open the eyes of the blind, to work for the oppressed, and to proclaim the forgiveness of debts.

May the words of my mouth, the meditations of my mind, and the feelings of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/opinion/15brooks.html

[2] http://www.jubileeusa.org

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