Thursday, 6 March 2014

Pointing the Finger

Last night in church we read from Isaiah 58: "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry...then your light will rise in the darkness." Written, possibly, at a time when the Jewish exiles had returned home and were trying to make Israel great again, there were those who pointed the finger at the poor and homeless. Possibly they called them 'lazy scroungers'. Not so different from today when those struggling on benefits are accused in the same way by a right-wing media, and a resentful population.

We also read the story in John chapter 8 of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. While all the 'righteous' Jewish men demanded that she should be stoned, pointing the finger of accusation against her, what did Jesus do? He didn't point his finger at the woman, even though she deserved it; he didn't even point his finger back at the Pharisees, even though they deserved it. Rather, he pointed his finger to the ground - to the sand where the 'river' of accusation runs dry. How much we can learn from that action: to discipline ourselves, perhaps as Jesus had learnt to do, not to point the finger, but to lower that accusing finger to the ground. It's the equivalent of 'counting to ten', but it opens the way for God's grace. "If anyone is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone." The Pharisees understood they were in the wrong without a finger pointing at them; the woman understood that she had sinned, but was given a way out to a new life.

Some of our popular newspapers are very good at pointing the finger, and we see that pointing finger everywhere we look - whether it's Ukraine and Russia, or the football pitch, or the TV series 'Benefits Street'. This Lent I'm going to try to learn from Jesus to bend my pointing finger down and let the spirit of accusation and resentment that is so easily aroused flow into the ground.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Isaiah 58:10 A Lenten Blog

This year during Lent I've decided to get out of my comfort zone and do what it says in Isaiah 58:10 - 'If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry...then your light will rise in the darkness.'  The whole chapter makes uncomfortable reading as it challenges a superficial religious approach to fasting which ignores some rotten values at the heart of society. Speaking through the prophet, God clearly says that his values are justice, freedom and righteousness. He shows a bias towards the poor, and commands his people to do the same. 

God says to his people ' away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk...' It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to see the pointing finger in much of our popular right-wing media, such as this article in the Daily Mail headlined 

A self-indulgent mother and the myth of 'starving' Britain
Read more:

Typical fare for the Daily Mail, and all too easy to focus on one blatant example at the expense of the thousands of others who don't deserve this finger-pointing. The worrying thing is that so many people will read this self-opinionated column and take it for the truth across the board.The Daily Mirror, from quite a different political stable, runs another article on the same theme, but this time the journalism seems more rigorous, as it is backed up with more facts and figures:

Britain's hungry children: Desperate schoolkids forced to steal leftovers and still Tories announce more cuts 

The truth is out there, if we bother to look for it. During this Lent I'm going to give up some time and energy finding out what the truth is. The bible tells me that God has a bias towards the poor, and that he looks with compassion on those who cannot speak up for themselves. At the same time it's possible to quote verses like 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat' - but that was written to curb the idleness that some fell into as they expected the imminent return of the Lord Jesus. 

Many Christians feel uncomfortable getting into deeper political waters - it's not my natural comfort zone. But we can't ignore real poverty right under our noses in this rich country of ours.