Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “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, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (Amos 8:4-10)
These words from the Daily Office should make us squirm. Should cause us to pause and think about how we are living. Justice and fairness are concepts we all support theoretically. And yet, I’ll admit that when I am the one getting the “lucky break” during a time of need, I am not thinking about those who are overlooked or suffering. I thank God for mercy and utter a sigh of relief. It is hard to love my neighbor when I am afraid.
Amos tells us we are a community. He reminds us that we cannot abuse, ignore or abandon parts of that community and expect long-term health and flourishing. Spiritual death is well underway long before the more obvious signs of damage become apparent.
I can’t get out of my mind a CNN article that appeared on Nov. 29: As HIV Epidemic Grows, Florida City Grapples with Fear and Denial. The article focuses on AIDS in my hometown Jacksonville, Florida. Honestly, I didn’t know AIDS was such a grave threat here now; I can’t remember seeing anything about it amidst all the various causes for which there are fundraising walks and races most every weekend. The article reports that HIV cases in Duval County (Jacksonville) have increased by more than 33% in the first half of 2011 and that most affected are low-income folks who are less likely to be tested or to receive early intervention. According to the CDC, Jacksonville boasts the fifth highest rate of infection in the nation. By all reports, the stigma has not lessened here — a grim reality that is not helpful.
Concurrent with this report, we have enjoyed lots of attention, concern and excitement around the sale of a professional football team – a team that plays in an arena surrounded by some of the most blighted, disadvantaged parts of our city. To be fair, I personally know a number of Jaguar fans who do a great deal – day in and day out — for the disenfranchised in our community, including those in areas immediately around the arena. But what if we were to do more? What if we were to put a small fraction of the energy spent lobbying for this team, praying for touchdowns, and hoping for something to celebrate – what if a fraction of that energy were directed toward loving our neighbors, especially those shunned for a disease that in this day and age can be treated and managed well?
(photo taken at Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Augustine)