I was in a discussion about immigration policies, the needs of homeless persons and other issues impacting our city and society in general when I realized we were addressing only one side of the issue. We were forming messages to the empowered with entrenched self-interest in maintaining the status quo. We were leaving off the messaging that needs to be addressed to the powerless in society whose desperation makes them vulnerable to abuse.
The setting for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was Galilee. His audience would have been those dispossessed by the changing economics of that day. Small farmers were forced off their land and into the pool of day laborers where there was no minimum wage. The more laborers looking for work, the less the wealthy, often foreigners, had to pay them. The policies that created this came out of imperial Rome with the collaboration of the elite temple establishment in Jerusalem. Both the secular and religious authorities callously disregarded the plight of the Galileans gathered on the hillside.
It was the desperate peasants who heard this spiritual leader tell them they were blessed and they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This was not the call to repentance that he would address to the powerful. It was a reminder to them that they could still find happiness, hope and worth no matter what life was throwing at them.
It seems today’s leaders spend much more time complaining about the powerful and not much time lifting up those who feel powerless. There are some seriously misguided possessors of money who gauge the value and success of life by wealth alone. There are many more who have lost their sense of worth. They are easily discouraged because they have been beaten down often. It is these who need to hear their spiritual leaders encouraging them and lifting their spirits for they will remain powerless as long as they believe they have no power.
We might find it easier to complain about what others are doing than to encourage people to take action on their own behalf, but those who claim to have a prophetic calling should not neglect to do both.