You Trample on the Poor and Laugh at the Plight of the Lowly...

I'm taking a brief break from the insanity that is my run up to Christmas and the series of "funnies" that I had set up to post this week as I reflect on this week's advent theme of the Coming Kingdom of Joy, to vent my spleen...
During advent we quote a lot from the prophets, and last Sunday, in a reflection based on Isaiah 61, I spoke about the good news for the poor that the prophet proclaimed... Amos, a prophet we don't often hear much from in advent, probably because his prophecy is not so much "tidings of comfort and joy" but "tidings of condemnation and judgement", by contrast speaks of bad news to the rich who oppress the poor... Among other things he says:
You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.
Seek good, not evil, that you may live.
Amos 5: 11-15

Back in 2002, because I was doing a series of Bible studies on Amos I rewrote the whole book looking at things then as if through the eyes of that shepherd from Tekoa. This passage came out as:
You trample on the poor and the powerless at home and abroad;
You force him to give you coffee beans when he should be growing grain for his children. Therefore, though you are building great glass office blocks,
No business will build a secure base in them
Though you are erecting fine new waterfront apartments
No-one will occupy them;
though new restaurants and bistros have opened across the city,
you will not long enjoy their good food and fine wine.
For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.

You ridicule those who stand up for what is right;
All you care is that your bank-balance is healthy.
The police and the courts are there to keep things quiet,
Not promote justice;
And all wise men keep quiet in such times.
These times are evil.Seek good, not evil,  that you may live. 
 
11 years down the line and a global financial meltdown later and times are no less evil... indeed the world over, governments, including the braying, jeering Old Etonians and their fellow-travellers on the ConDem government's benches, are trying to rebuild the glittering pleasuredome of capitalism on the rubble of poor people's lives. 
This week's debate concerning the rise of the use of foodbanks in Britain, is one of the most shameful episodes I have ever listened to in Parliament. IDS's refusal to answer questions... the baying of the Tory back-benches... Esther McVey's callousness and effrontery in citing blatantly incorrect statistics, together with the walk-out of the entire Department of Work and Pensions team before the conclusion of the debate and the use of the government whip to defeat the motion were all an insult to both those who staff and support foodbanks and those whom they are trying to serve.
Now, for the sake of balance, let me say that I believe that the much reported comment from Fiona McTaggart, the Labour MP for Slough, concerning the poor fighting over marked down food in supermarkets, is a bit of a red-herring. it may have been poor people fighting over the food... But it may not... I have witnessed the same phenomenon in a supermarket near to my previous home, and the combatants were definitely not poor... just greedy... But thereby hangs a tale/tail (which is it?)... What sort of a society are we living in where people fight over 5p apples, and others (or perhaps the same people) stand in line with their precious vouchers at a foodbank... whilst politicians in line for a hefty pay-rise and claiming food expenses for each day at work, laugh and lie and legislate in such a way that makes such things more likely rather than less. The biggest lie (among many) being peddled by this current government is that work is the way out of poverty... while many of those going to foodbanks are actually in work, and average wages are actually decreasing in relation to the living wage... I actually believed IDS when he said that he wanted to reform the Welfare System in order to help those who really needed help... Anyone being honest will say that it did/does need reform, although doing such reforms in a period of austerity is madness (Labour - you DO have something to answer for here)... I also believed that some of his positions were based on his Christian convictions... 
I'm no longer convinced, and haven't been for a long time... Whatever his personal convictions, his tactics, and that of his attack-dog McVey, are culled straight from the Victorian "deserving/undeserving poor" playbook, that is prepared to let "cold charity" take the place of justice... And that includes the restriction of legal aid to those challenging changes to disability benefits etc. 
Amos paints a vivid picture of judgement on those who oppress the poor. He uses fairly graphic imagery to describe their downfall, involving fish hooks, lions and bears...  Judgement will come... Whether it be at the ballot box or, God forbid, in violence... Mary, in her Magnificat, which we often read or sing at this time of year, celebrates the revolutionary activity of God:
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
Luke 1: 51-53
Amos is particularly critical of those who oppress the poor yet adopt the cloak of piety, and so again, at this time of religious celebration and conspicuous consumption it is probably worth hearing what he has to say to us:
"I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
Amos 5: 21-24
Judgement will come... but more importantly justice will prevail...
Let it flow...
Shalom

Comments

Andy Boal said…
Well said, David, very well said.

I never believed IDS for one minute, partly because cynical Andy has never observed a welfare reform that fulfils the public intent of those promoting it - inevitably the liars continue to receive money to which they should not be entitled with apparent impunity, and the honest claimants lose out.

On top of that, IDS is in a Tory Government whose supposed coalition partners fail to hold to account, which means three things: income tax cuts so the rich pay less, purchase tax increases which the poor cannot avoid, and spending cuts.

Throw in the plot by both main parties to increase pension age because it’s cheaper to pay JSA to people in their 20s because people over 60 cannot afford to retire than to pay State Pension to over 65s, and you get the picture, because the jobs simply do not appear to be there for the increased workforce. I’m lucky, because I’ll only be 69 when I retire. Perhaps at that stage I’ll be well enough to want to work on, but more likely I’ll have long wished I could afford to go part time.

Ultimately, the real problem with welfare (the real cheats who give the millions of genuine claimants suffering) is caused by greed. Greed of the rich, greed of those who don’t want to work, resulting in those who would love to work but are either too unwell or can’t find a job they can afford to travel to losing out.

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