Proverbial Economics

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 19:1, 4, 7, 22
1 Better the poor whose walk is blameless
     than a fool whose lips are perverse.

4 Wealth attracts many friends,
     but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.

7 The poor are shunned by all their relatives—
     how much more do their friends avoid them!
 Though the poor pursue them with pleading,
     they are nowhere to be found.

22 What a person desires is unfailing love;
     better to be poor than a liar.

Reflection: Proverbial Economics
By Erin Newton

Proverbs seems to blame the poor for their situation—hunger is caused by one’s laziness or foolishness (Proverbs 19.15, 24). The statements read as harsh indictments to those struggling to survive.

The ancient Israelites were encouraged to avoid poverty or debt. The economic system did not have regulations on lending; a faulty decision could bring a family to ruin. Kinsmen redeemers were an opportunity to provide freedom from one’s situation (see Ruth), but other family members were typically in a similar scenario and unable to bring redemption to their brothers and sisters.

One skill we must learn when reading the Bible—especially the book of Proverbs—is to avoid reading it anachronistically. That means we must steer clear of forcing our modern systems into the ancient text. I find this most pertinent when reading about economics. Our social systems, finances, economies, and class structures are different from ancient Israel.

We must also learn to read the Bible as a whole, seeking to see the trajectory of a topic from Genesis to Revelation. We might read verses that blame the poor for their situation but that is not a prescriptive universal statement for all time.

There is also a unique feature when speaking of the poor in Proverbs. Alongside these blunt statements about the status of the poor are compassionate and honoring statements.

Twice in this chapter wisdom places the poor above others. One’s character is severed from his or her financial status. The blameless poor are better than perverted fools. The poor who seek God’s love are better than liars who seek power.

But the poor are often neglected and unnoticed by their peers. It is no surprise when we read, “Wealth attracts many friends.” People want to be friends with the wealthy in hopes of gaining wealth by proximity or receiving some benefit from the association.

In contrast, “the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.” No financial gain or personal benefit is assumed when befriending the poor. This can only be true if our priorities revolve around ourselves.

Proverbs are not the final words on wealth and poverty. Reading holistically, some proverbs move the conversation forward by highlighting the sharing of wealth: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord” (Proverbs 19.17), and “the righteous give without sparing” (Proverbs 21.26).Jesus said rightly that we would always have the poor among us. He calls us to give, come, and follow him (Luke 18.22).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 19 (Listen 3:09)

Read more about Would You Rather Proverbs?
No amount of wealth, power, or ease is worth abandoning the way of Jesus. These are the very things Satan tempted Jesus with.

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Tares Will Burn

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 18.14-15
14 The human spirit can endure in sickness, 
but a crushed spirit who can bear? 
15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, 
for the ears of the wise seek it out. 

Matthew 13.30
30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.

Reflection: Tares Will Burn
By John Tillman

It crushes the spirit and sickens the heart when evil returns and seems unopposed.

Recently in American cities, Nazis openly marched and chanted in the streets, referring to non-white people as feces and vermin.

Over 400,000 Americans died defeating the Nazi empire, yet today, Hitler’s flags and slogans in American streets brought shrugs from some politicians, media personalities, and Christians. “Are they really Nazis? Did anyone interview them to find out what they want?” As if we couldn’t listen to the chants, read the flags, or remember what Nazis want.

In the 1930s, Nazi ideology twisted and manipulated Christianity and the Bible into an explicitly anti-Christian mandate of hate. Nazi ideology was defeated by those who reclaimed Christianity from hatred, kinism, and fascism. Yet today, some think fascism might not be so bad, and some Christians have pulled Nazi definitions of Christendom from the trash heap of history and are reheating them on a stove to serve their followers.

Who can endure when sickness such as this returns and returns? How can our spirits not be crushed to witness moral and theological failure? To what can we appeal when those supporting hatred, violence, and oppression slander the very name of Christ?

There have always been tares among the wheat, false gospels among the true, and false Christs posing as “saviors” of the church or Christianity.

There is no glib proverb promising such things cannot happen in our time. There’s no easy answer other than proclaiming the truth. There’s no course of action other than staying the course in the way of Jesus.

There is good news. First, this evil is not unopposed. Don’t become distracted by Christian voices deceived by or apathetic to kinism and racism. Lend your voice to those who cry against such things.

We may be embarrassed by the arguments between Christians about whether it is bad that Nazis are marching or not. We may be disappointed or disillusioned by the failures of leaders or organizations to confront false Christendoms, false gospels, and false messiahs that promote them.

However, there are those longing to hear the truth if we will tell them. The heart of the discerning longs to acquire knowledge. The ears of the wise are seeking the truth.

There are tares in the field, but many people search for the true wheat. And someday, those tares will burn.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? Who may abide upon your holy hill?
Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart.
There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend; he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
In his sight the wicked is rejected, but he honors those who fear the Lord.
He has sworn to do no wrong and does not take back his word.
He does not give his money in hope of gain, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things shall never be overthrown. — Psalm 15

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 18 (Listen 2:23)
Mark 8  (Listen 4:29)

Read more about Breathing Prayers
Breath prayers are simply short prayers which can be said “in a breath.” These are often taken from scripture.

Read more about A Sword Unsheathed
May we cry against violence not cry for it. 
May we end the suffering of the poor not endorse it.

Would You Rather Proverbs?

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 17.1-7
1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet 
than a house full of feasting, with strife. 
2 A prudent servant will rule over a disgraceful son 
and will share the inheritance as one of the family. 
3 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, 
but the Lord tests the heart. 
4 A wicked person listens to deceitful lips; 
a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue. 
5 Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; 
whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished. 
6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged, 
and parents are the pride of their children. 
7 Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool— 
how much worse lying lips to a ruler!

Reflection: Would You Rather Proverbs?
By John Tillman

“Would You Rather?” forces choices between bad and usually gross options. “Would you rather eat a live bug or a hairball?” Some proverbs sound like a question from the game: Would you rather be peaceful with poverty or problematic with prosperity? (Proverbs 17.1) But God isn’t trying to gross us out or force us to choose between two bad options. God is teaching us to see and to think differently.

In the world, the “party” is worth the “strife.” The grind is worth the drip. Even if it means grinding up your competitors, workers, or family. Wealth, power, and ease are worth whatever you do to obtain them. 

In Christ, no amount of wealth, power, or ease is worth abandoning the way of Jesus. These are the very things Satan tempted Jesus with. We must resist them, too.

In the world, children inherit whether they are wise or wastrels, whether their habits are gracious or grotesque. Birthright is biological, and the first always gobbles the biggest slice. 

In Christ, the first are joyfully last and the older serve the younger. Not only that, God treats as family outsiders and exiles who embrace wisdom and disowns and rejects biological kin who mock his grace and mercy.

In the world, we mock the poor for their poverty and honor those who inherit wealth as if they earned it.

In Christ, there is good news for the poor. Helping the poor is helping Christ himself, and mocking or turning away the poor is mocking and turning away God himself. Kingdoms and their leaders are wicked if the poor, the foreigner, and the vulnerable suffer and righteous when they find justice and peace.

Among God’s people, in Christ, a new family is defined, a new kingdom is founded, and a new world is created. In this family, love is defined differently. In this kingdom, power operates differently. In this world, growth occurs differently. We should be different. We should expect, pursue, and celebrate different things when we are a part of Christ than we do as a part of the world. We must align our hearts and minds to these new ways of thinking.

We are not choosing between two bad options when we choose the way of Christ. We are learning to spot what is good in what the world finds gross and what is gold in what the world dismisses as dross.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let those who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 17 (Listen 2:58)
Mark 7  (Listen 4:28)

Read more about Proverbs’ House of Mirrors
Do our words rhyme with God’s? Or do they stink? Would we enjoy eating them?

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Proverbs’ House of Mirrors

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 13.1-5
1 A wise son heeds his father’s instruction,
but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.
2 From the fruit of their lips people enjoy good things, 
but the unfaithful have an appetite for violence. 
3 Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, 
but those who speak rashly will come to ruin. 
4 A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, 
but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. 
5 The righteous hate what is false, 
but the wicked make themselves a stench 
and bring shame on themselves. 

Exodus 3.14-15
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ 
“This is my name forever, 
the name you shall call me 
from generation to generation.

Reflection: Proverbs’ House of Mirrors
By John Tillman

We often remember that the Psalms are poetry. (Although we may not remember this enough.) But other parts of the Bible, including Proverbs, are also better interpreted through a poetic lens.

Hebrew poetry rhymes ideas, not sounds. Occasionally, biblical writers use homophones or near-homophones as puns, implying meaning and connections, but they do not arrange them in rhyming patterns. Parallelism is the primary tool in the biblical poetry toolkit.

Perhaps Hebrew poetry’s love of and proficiency at parallelism is a reflection on the name of the God they worshiped. God’s name has parallelism within itself. God tells Moses his name is “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3.15) God’s name is a reflective statement. “I am” is reflected by “who I am. Even his description of the use of his name is reflective. “Forever” is reflected by “from generation to generation.”

Let us reflect on a small section of Proverbs, considering each verse as a reflective couplet and each couplet as reflecting those before it and around it.

Proverbs 13.2: The first image is people eating their words. In this case, “eating one’s words” is not comeuppance. The righteous can enjoy eating their words. Next, we see others’ words produce evil, specifically violence. These people have an appetite for violence and enjoy the taste.

Proverbs 13.3: A new detail appears. Guarded, truthful, careful speech saves lives, while rash, false, violent speech brings ruin.

Proverbs 13.4: The image of the appetite returns. The sluggard’s appetite leads to dissatisfaction. The appetite for violence, mentioned above, needs more and more, while the desires of the righteous bring fulfillment.

Proverbs 13.5: More details about flavors of speech arise. The righteous develop a distaste for dishonesty and deception. The wicked gobble up and spew forth lies and distortions. They smell of what they eat and what they vomit up.

Biblical poetry is like a house of mirrors, with patterns of reflective statements all reflecting on each other. Do we see ourselves reflected in these mirrored statements?

Which son (Proverbs 13.1) do we resemble? The son who heeds? Or the son who mocks? 
What do our words incite? Violence or joy?
Do our words rhyme with God’s? Or do they stink? Would we enjoy eating them?
How do our actions reflect God’s name? Do we distort his image?

Let us not look into scripture’s mirror and forget what we see. (James 1.23-24)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let us bless the Lord from this time forth forevermore. — Psalm 115.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 13 (Listen 2:45
Mark 3  (Listen 3:41)

Read more about The Promise of Proverbs is Change
It is crucial to ask, “Are we becoming people of wickedness or righteousness?” What we become can change our world.

Read more about The Logic of Proverbs
Foolishness, folly, and violence will be attractive because they seem effective. The violent will inevitably prosper. How will we respond?

The Spirituality of Bird Feeders

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 12:10
10 The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
     but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Reflection: The Spirituality of Bird Feeders
By Erin Newton

When I wake up in the morning, I can hear that the world around me has not slept at all. The sun peeks through the curtains as the Earth slowly spins in orbit. The songs of the birds call me to the window. I see the squirrels rushing from tree to tree. The last remaining leaves rustle in the cold winter breeze.

As I bring in my groceries, the sun stands tall above my head. I hear the call of crows scaring away a pair of hawks. Even when it snows outside, the footprints of the wild bunnies show me that they were passing through my yard at night. An owl lands just out the window. We sit frozen, locked eye to eye.

Before humanity was told to fill this world with our own creations, we were asked to take care of that which God had already made. The first command was to take care of the more ancient citizens of this planet—Nature.

The wisdom in this proverb echoes the call from the dawn of those first few days in Genesis. It was through wisdom that God made all things. Wisdom here is this: The righteous, those who seek to uphold the nature and will of God, tend to the needs of animals.

In some ways, we do a very poor job fulfilling the first request God ever gave to us. We take land and clear it out. Even when we plant, we remove biodiversity with monoculture ecosystems. We limit food sources for wild creatures. We pave paradise.

Jesus told his disciples to consider the ravens: “They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them.” And how? By letting the ground produce plants that will give their seeds and house insects. (Ravens even clear out decomposing rodents—a helpful feature for those of us with sensitive noses and a weak stomach!)

If our first call was to cultivate, to bring this Earth to its fullest potential, then our righteousness should be reflected in our care for creation. It is not unspiritual work to fill up a bird feeder, adopt a pet, or plant flowers for the bees.

We cannot survive this world without our cohabiting creatures. This world is far too big for one person alone to care for them all. We can divide the work and cultivate this world together.

Music:Feed the Birds,from Mary Poppins.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Wake up, my spirit; awake lute and harp; I myself will waken the dawn. — Psalm 57.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 12 (Listen 3:07
Mark 2  (Listen 3:55)

Read more about Cultivating Is Supernatural
A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural.

Read more about The Cultivating Life
“Cultivation is supernatural,” but the actions of cultivating faith are not ethereal or fanciful. They are the practical, steady doings of the farmer.