“We need to pay close attention to the things to which God pays close attention.”
1Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord.
2Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time on and forevermore.
3From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised.
4The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
5Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
6who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
7He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
9He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!
There is an important spiritual principle that should make a big difference in our life and faith. It sounds like a statement of the obvious – but in our great busyness it’s something we dare not overlook. It’s this: “We need to pay close attention to the things to which God pays close attention.” It’s in this Psalm and also a part of what we learn from the prophet Amos. In the 8th chapter he contends that God pays close attention to what happens to the poor and needy – and – God pays close attention to our response to the poor and dispossessed.
This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. 3The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”
4Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
11The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.
The difficulty is that we don’t want to keep a watchful eye on the things on which God keeps a watchful eye. The poor and the homeless are kept at a distance. We don’t want low income housing too close to our neighborhood and homeless shelters are best kept well out of sight of our shelter. The alliteration NIMBY is all too often employed (it means “not in my back yard”). And as for the extreme poverty of some parts of the third world – well that’s a “world away” – so to speak. Are we really so focused on our own survival and well being that we have neither time, energy or resources to spare? So focused that we avoid confronting the political and economic interests that perpetuate keeping others is disparate circumstances?
In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan the priest and Levite passed by on the other side of the road. It strikes me as interesting that perpetrator of the crime isn’t the focus in the parable. What a bad guy he must be. Maybe we need to pass a law against ambush and then have a long debate on whether to adequately fund enforcement. That’s seems to be our preferred solution today. Not so in the parable. We get it loud and clear that God was not only watching the poor man who had been beaten and robbed, he was also watching those who encountered the victim. In the story it is the perpetrators of the misery of the poor that God promises to remember. “Surely, I will never forget any of their deeds.”
I admit it. For most of us, it is not a matter of consciously victimizing those who are poor. We are not, in Amos’ words, “…buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.” We are not hiding in the weeds on the Jericho road waiting to pounce on some poor unsuspecting traveler. But we are aware that there is a dangerous Jericho road out there and in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “We’ve got to do something about that Jericho road.”
Psalm 113 is a call to the people of God to remember who God is and what God has done. The creator of all that is and ever will be is somehow concerned with the ordinary activities of people. It seems a huge challenge to us to consider just how radically unique is our God. There is nothing in all creation that can be compared to this God, and yet this God is concerned about people.
What does this God do? God watches over people, raises the poor, lifts the needy, equalizes power relationships, and provides security to the most vulnerable, in the Psalmist’s language raising the status of childless women to full humanity. The equalization of humankind that the psalmist extols calls into question contemporary disparities between wealthy and poor, powerful and powerless, elite and excluded.
The psalmist calls into question the practices of people toward those who suffer in three categories: poverty, need, and vulnerability. If we take Amos seriously we should expect that God will turn the tables on those who aren’t paying attention to that which God is paying attention. Those who participate in activities that push people toward poverty, drive people into places of need, and exclude the vulnerable from circles of security and friendship are reminded that this is not consonant with God’s care for people. Instead, the psalmist affirms for those languishing in the ash heaps and dust piles of despair that they will be lifted up. Their experience will not be forever. They will have a day of grace, a day where economic and power laden fields are leveled. Their day of despair will not prevail. A day of praise shall break forth.