Today's Lectionary Text
Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
The unknown writer of Ecclesiastes, Koheleth, reflects on human experience and notes that people through the generations face the same situations again and again. They long to understand and find meaning, but some things simply don’t have an explanation. There are pious and righteous people, and there always will be. There is also godlessness and oppression, and there always will be. Or in the words of singer Willie Nelson, “There’s believers, and deceivers, and old in-betweeners” (“Hands on the Wheel”). Koheleth observes “the tears of the oppressed, with none to comfort them,” and also “the tears of the oppressors, with none to comfort them.”
That’s bleak! “So much is wrong with the world. Power favors the powerful, who organize and structure the system to stay in power and increase their wealth. That’s just the way it is, and there’s nothing you can do.” Really? How did that get in the Bible?!
I think also of Exodus 3. God said to Moses at the burning bush, “I have observed the misery of my people … I have heard their cry ... I know their sufferings … I have come to deliver them.” And God sent Moses to carry the message and lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.
Several years ago, I read a letter to the editor whose writer that assumed God hated gays and lesbians. The writer quoted the Bible to justify some especially hateful comments. I shook my head and prayed, “Some minister should write a letter saying not all Christians believe this. Someone … but not me.” That afternoon I received an email asking if I would write a letter. (I’d better remember to be more careful what I pray for!)
God calls us and sends us to comfort the “tears of the oppressed” and the “tears of the oppressors.” This is the work of mercy and charity. God also calls us to free people from oppression, to change oppressive situations, to liberate. This is the work of justice. Both are part of God’s call.
--Rev. Stephen Griffith
Prayer for Reflection
God, help us notice the tears of the oppressed and the oppressors. Help us free one another from the prisons we create for others and ourselves. Help us bring comfort and hear the call to do justice. Amen.
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