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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, May 29, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Deuteronomy 15:1–11           

Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” (NRSV)

Although the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are not often looked at as scintillating reads, they do contain plenty of material that are striking in their treatment of issues related to systemic justice. In our passage this morning, the Torah seeks to establish a sabbatical year in which a variety of debts are forgiven or lightened—much in the same way that the sabbath day was intended for rest—for the purposes of ensuring that people do not become trapped in cycles of indebtedness and that all God’s people have a chance to flourish. The passage further goes on to ask that anyone who is in need be supported by any who had the means to do so—a practice that sounds awfully similar to the early church community from the book of Acts.

In reading this passage, it is next to impossible to imagine such a scenario existing in our culture today. Proposing a sabbatical year in which debts (student loans? thirty-year mortgages? credit cards?!) would be voluntarily lessened or forgiven by financial institutions would likely get you laughed out of the room. But this desire to provide for every citizen, particularly the most vulnerable in society, undergirds much of the biblical text and cannot be ignored. How can we make space for that desire in our country and our world today? There’s no 300-word, devotion-length answer to that question, so instead may we wrestle with it in the days ahead.

Great and compassionate God, your command to love and to serve our neighbor often stretches us beyond the bounds of what we consider possible. Challenge us to more fully inhabit your empathy, and confront our desire to pursue our well-being at the expense of that of our neighbor. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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