Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: poverty

Guest Post: An Insightful Question

by Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman

 

Read Matthew 26:6–13.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comThere’s a scene in the baseball movie, Moneyball, where Brad Pitt (as the general manager of a professional baseball team) challenges a room full of veteran scouts by asking repeatedly, “What’s the problem?” (Be aware there is explicit language is this clip.) Pitt’s insight is that their solutions are inadequate because they have not grasped the fundamental nature of the struggle at hand. They need new ways of thinking.

Notice in our text that the disciples were angered by the woman’s actions (Mt 26:8). Those who were closest to Jesus couldn’t identify the problem either. Perhaps like veteran baseball scouts, many of us are likewise preferential to “what we’ve always done.” We are irritated by new ways of thinking and even threatened by the inclusion of other people. There is nothing wrong with tradition per se; but what prevents us from achieving new insight?

This question prompts reflection upon verse eleven and the famous (or infamous) maxim about “always having the poor among you.” Does this imply a grudging acknowledgement, even callous acceptance, of the reality of poverty? Does this mean that we should simply stop thinking about the problem? I don’t think so. Consider the full citation from which this verse is drawn: “Since there will always be the poor on the earth, I command you: ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (Deut 15:11). The ongoing presence of those in need does not justify a lack of response; rather the exact opposite–it gives us a mandate to act. We need to think differently and the example of others can be our guide.

One scholar, Eugene Boring, characterizes this text in Matthew as the story of the “insightful” woman: she brilliantly illustrates a new way of looking at the problems of society. She recognizes that Jesus is worthy to be praised, even though he will be executed. She realizes that the glory of the God is manifested in death upon the cross–and, just as importantly, she acts upon her awareness. Some, like the disciples, might question whether she solved the problem; but the point, I think, is that she became a living sacrifice thereby transforming her understanding (Ro 12:1–2).

As we seek insight into the fundamental nature of society’s problems and their solutions for a new time, may we remember that simple acts of grace can open the door to the richness of worship. Instead of fear and anger, may we learn from those who give of themselves. And may the right questions inspire faithful actions.

Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of New Dublin Presbyterian Church and author of two books, Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir and Parables of Parenthood. He blogs and can be reached at www.takemyhandmemoir.com

O Come, O Come Emmanuel*

nativity_13156bcOne of my favorite Advent hymns is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  We sang a few verses the other Sunday (July 14) in worship.  I know it seems strange to be singing a Christmas carol in the middle of July.  But, hey, why not?

We sing it during Advent and Christmas because we are awaiting the arrival of the Christ-child to be born in our midst.  The Christ-child who was born in a barn, with no fanfare likely deserved for the One who will save all of humanity.  Much like Clark Kent, Jesus’ birth and arrival on planet Earth, went mostly unnoticed.  And yet, the hymn is calling for God to dwell among humanity.

I once heard a trio sing it at a concert acapella, which is when I paid so much more attention to the words.  Ever since then it has been one of my favorites.  When we sing this hymn we are asking for Emmanuel – God With Us – Jesus Christ – to “ransom captive” those in “lonely exile” and to “disperse the gloomy clouds of night.”

There are individuals and families right here in Lynchburg who are not able to meet the basic needs for their families, put a basic meal together, or have seasonally appropriate clothing.   They are “captive” to poverty, living in “lonely exile” and in the midst of “gloomy clouds.” Peakland partners with ministries like Lynchburg Daily Bread, Rivermont Food Pantry, and Park View Community Mission (and others!) who are working to release the captive, feed the hungry, and shine on the gloomy clouds.

My hope is that your prayer – our prayer – will be “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  Come, God With Us, and dwell among us as we strive to love others, release the captive, feed the hungry, and shine Light on the gloomy clouds.  Amen.

*This first appeared as a From the Deacon column at Peakland United Methodist. 

Jesus, the Light of the World

Megan - Andres - jasoncstanley.comIn our recent mission trip to Costa Rica, our mission team adopted a theme of walking in the Light.  One of the songs we sang as a team was the gospel song “Jesus, the Light of the World.”

When living in darkness, it is often hard to find light, and even harder to walk in that light.   We see poverty in various forms.  We hear stories of prostitution, gangs, and massive drug use.  And we see darkness.

Yet, we are reminded:

“You are the light of the world.  A city on top of a hill can’t be  hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, CEB).

Jesus said that.  While we follow the Light that is Jesus Christ, he tells us that we are the light.  We carry the light with us.  So, it is our responsibility as followers of Christ to bear the light in the midst of darkness.

We met a boy around the age of 8 or 9 named Andres in Los Diques.  He was shy and uncertain about coming back to the Bible school.  But, after we got started the next day, he showed up.  He and Megan bonded from the very beginning.  We learned as the week went on that Andres lived with his mother and step-father, and that his step-father made sure that his biological children were feed first, before Andres was fed.  Andres got especially close to Megan, and Megan to him.

The light was shared in the relationships that were formed.

Here is a video of the gospel song, “Jesus, the Light of the World,” featuring the late Jessy Dixon:

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