Open Hearts, Open Hands
“The test of a democracy is not the magnificence of buildings or the speed of automobiles, or the efficiency of air transportation, but rather the care given to the welfare of all the people.” (Helen Adams Keller)
During Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem, when he would be tried and executed, he affirmed the lack of importance of buildings. Israel was not a democracy, and Jesus said nothing about automobiles or airplanes, but he had plenty to say about buildings.
Jesus was leaving the temple at the end of the day when his disciples commented on the beauty and seeming permanence of the buildings. It’s good to remember that the temple grounds covered about thirty-five acres and contained multiple buildings.
In answer, Jesus said, “You see all of these, do you not? Truly I tell you, there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)
In A.D. 70 Jesus’ words came true when Rome crushed a Jewish rebellion. As part of the retribution, the temple was completely destroyed and has never been rebuilt. Jerusalem itself was decimated, and the remaining revolutionaries were massacred.
A government does not consist of buildings anymore than a family consists of a house. Buildings are important for carrying on the work of a government, but they are not essential. Nor are the latest technological advances so important that they cannot be done without. What is important in any government is people. Without people, no government—no nation.
Democracies are not the most efficient forms of government. Dictatorships are much better at getting work done. The dictator issues the orders, and the workers carry them out.
Democracies, on the other hand, are supposed to be compassionate. In this country we have just seen what happens when a less-than-compassionate pseudo-dictator is in charge. The people who suffer the most are those who can least afford to suffer—the poor, the underclass, the ones who have the most difficult time finding justice and equality.
Keller’s words remind us that these are the people who most need protection, encouragement, and assistance. Only as the welfare of those on the lowest rungs of society is respected and achieved can all people secure the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our Pledge of Allegiance ends with the words, “With liberty and justice for all.” Keller reminds us how important these words are, especially the final two: for all.
God understood the need to care for all people. In the wilderness God made sure the poor would receive liberty and justice as the nation of Israel was being formed. God wanted to assure that there would be no systemic poverty; so we have the words of Leviticus 15:7-11.
If a person became poor, his neighbors were not to ignore his condition. Instead, his brothers—those who resided in the same town, not just members of his family—were to open their hearts and their hands to help. The mechanism for this help was the Sabbatical Year. Every seven years all debts were cancelled. Debtors had the chance to begin over with a clean slate. If someone needed help to get back on his feet again, his neighbors were to willingly provide. The troubles of one generation were not to be visited upon the next generation.
Can we observe this law as stated in Leviticus? With the complexity of our economy, probably not. Should we find a way to enact the principle and so do away with generational poverty? Absolutely!
God has spoken, and we must obey.