Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The problem with (not only) Swaziland

In an ancient rabbinic text there's an interesting commentary that describes four kinds of person. The first kind says, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours." This, says the rabbis, is the ordinary person. The second kind of person says, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine." This is the fool. The third kind of person says, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is yours." This is the saint. The last kind, the fourth, says, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine." This is the thug. All this might seem pretty rudimentary, but here's the crunch: the rabbinic text then goes on to say that the first kind of person, the 'ordinary person', is a Sodomite, i.e., the kind of person who lived in Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of the plain, the cities that were destroyed by God and have gone down in history as a byword for evil.
   Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain were not judged and found wanting because of their homosexuality-- homosexuality was only a symptom of what was wrong with them-- they were destroyed because they didn't pursue justice. You see, the attitude of "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours" always maintains the status quo, ensuring that the rich stay rich, and the poor stay poor. In fact, the cities of the plain refused hospitality to strangers, taking the "What's ours is ours" philosophy to the extreme-- no Good Samaritan story was ever taught in their schools. Jewish tradition says that workers were paid according to their status, so the rich were paid more than the poor even for doing the same work. Likewise, having possessions was seen as such a sign of success that things came to be valued above people, especially above poor people. During the building of the tower of Babel (the tower's builders were S&G's founders) a worker falling from the tower and dying of his injuries wouldn't cause much concern, but if a single brick fell to the ground, the authorities went out of their way to retrieve it. It doesn't take much to see that we're living in the same kind of world today, with R2 million churches side-by-side with 67% of the population living in dire poverty; it's not only politicians, bankers and lawyers who want long pointy shoes, tailored suits and big cars.
   It's worth remembering that Jesus began his ministry with an announcement of the Jubilee, and ended it with a stunning sermon told from the view of the dispossessed:  "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me." This is the correct attitude expected of those who enter the eternal Kingdom. We came into this world with nothing; we'll leave this world with nothing; everything we have is always lent to us by God.

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