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Written by Jim Jordal   
Friday, 13 July 2007


By Jim Jordal

"The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else."

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America, 2001

Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you, and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord…

James 5:4 (NASB)

Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, who uses his neighbor's services without pay and does not give him his wages….But your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion.

Jeremiah 22:13, 17 (NASB)

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:5 (NASB)

Maybe it's an idea you've never before thought seriously about--the working poor as major benefactors of society! But it does have a ring of truth, doesn’t it?

As Barbara Ehrenreich says above, the working poor endure great privation and much suffering so that others may have their children cared for, live in great houses, and make obscene profits from entrepreneurial efforts and investments. This view is not unique to Ehrenreich, however. For most of recorded history it has been the theme of prophets and holy persons using Spirit-given vision and inspiration to describe economic and social evils and to advocate against them.

Think of a feudal estate and the contributions of landless serfs to the manor house and its wealthy occupants. Visit the Hermitage (former winter palace of the Russian Czars, now a state museum) and ponder the fact that the immense wealth represented by the tens of thousands of irreplaceable art objects on view there was paid for by the blood and sweat of enslaved Russian peasants. And wonder about who furnished the labor that built and paid for the hundreds of European castles now on exhibition as tourist destinations.

Truth be known, there have been only a few times human history when the poor haven't subsidized the rich. Perhaps in a few isolated utopian communities it wasn't true. Nor did it continue in the few instances when historical Israel followed (though imperfectly) God's economic laws of Jubilee. But it has always been the chosen model of whatever domination system held power at the time.

We’re conditioned to think of the poor—even those having jobs—as somehow less than diligent, capable people. But we need to rethink that belief, since a majority of poor people work full time, and some much more. The problem is that over the past generation minimum or entry-level wages in the U.S. have failed dismally to keep up with the cost of living.

We blithely accept that poverty and deprivation are normal in the human experience. Thus we can ignore or minimize their existence. We know about lower classes of people that have always done menial work in service of privileged groups. And we don't expect that they should earn anything but minimal wages.

That's what it's all about folks: This present situation in which the poor of the earth subsidize the rich and powerful through their labor and suffering is neither normal nor just. God does not mandate it, and it does not have to continue. Yes, we will never have a society in which all are equal in either ability or wealth. That would be destructive of all we value, as was so well proven in Communist countries during a large portion of the 20th century. But we will have a society in which all are accorded basic rights of economic dignity, political morality, and social justice. That's what God has decreed for His earthly kingdom, and that's what Jubilee justice promises.

Last Updated ( Friday, 13 July 2007 )