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On Poverty and Prudence

by David Jordan


A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
A child who gathers in summer is prudent,
but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame (Proverbs 10:4-5)

Consider: Hard work also entails overcoming stereotypes.

If only it were so easy. I am tempted to buy the reassurance this Proverb offers: my prosperity is due to my hard work. Those around me who happen to be less prosperous – especially those who are poor – surely must be in their condition for a reason. Therefore, they must have “a slack hand.” They must be lazy, or at least not as clever and hard working as me.

I, on the other hand, must be blessed and in God’s good favor.

Jesus seems to feel otherwise. We can agree that hard work is good. For too long, the conventional wisdom of our society assumed that hard work yielded prosperous fields and demonstrated a blessedness we could be proud of. Indeed, Proverbs can appear to justify a kind of financial supremacy. However, studying the Bible requires us to compare and contrast, to go more deeply into our texts, to consider how these perspectives work in conjunction with the wisdom that Jesus brings.

I have known a lot of people over the years who get up early every day and spend long hours at backbreaking work. They offer love and healthy food to their families. They keep their homes clean and attractive. They pay their bills and do their best to contribute to their communities. They go to church and love their neighbors. And in spite of everything, they remain poor.

They are rich in love, in spirit, in family and friends, yes. But for a variety of reasons, they continue to struggle financially. I can imagine Jesus spending a lot of time with these friends, reveling in their hard work and their loving natures. Yet, according to our text for today, some might be tempted to classify them as having a “slack hand.” Not Jesus. His ministry focused on the very ones we too often look down upon. Perhaps the greatest value we can glean from today’s text can be a warning. Labels and stereotypes might allow us to feel better about ourselves and subtly look down on others.

But Jesus keeps us honest. He challenges us to overcome stereotypes. And he reminds us that sometimes, it is in and through these very ones we end up seeing him most clearly.

PRAY: Help us, Lord. First give us the sacred desire to be better followers of you. Then allow us the strength to see others with the your same, graceful view. Let us today be wise enough to see you in others. And loving enough, so that others might see you … in us.



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