8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
10 Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.
11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?
12 The sleep of a labourer is sweet, whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.
Today’s reading carries on with themes that we have been looking at over the last week, so I would like to just concentrate on the most startling verse in today’s segment: verse 8: “If you see the poor oppressed in a district and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things”.
This is not how we expect the sentence to go: what we would expect the writer to be saying is, if you see injustice, do something about it. But the teacher in this passage is talking about the realities of the way of the world, without God.
I was pondering this verse as I took my dogs out for a walk – passing all the overflowing recycling bins out on the kerbside ready to be emptied. Full of discarded packages of our consumer driven society, things bought in so many instances that were made or grown by people paid a pittance for their labour, as we demand our value for money.
I passed fields sprayed with pesticides, to ensure the highest yield possible, with no thought for the long term damage to our environment and insects. I paused to watch the streams of cars and lorries hurrying about their day, in a world speeding up again after so many months of lockdown, a seeming desperation to get back on the treadmill. The French have a great phrase for this “metro, boulot, dodo” – in English we would say commute, work, sleep – perhaps better known as the rat race!
This is our “normal” life. It is so normal to us, that we probably don’t really think about the human cost of others for us to enjoy our normal life. As a brief aside, if you are brave enough to want to find out how many slaves allow you to enjoy your life today, visit www.slaveryfootprint.org and you may well be shocked at the results of answering their questionnaire.
But back to the text: verses 9-11 of this section could just as well be describing our society today, as back in Ancient Times. The futility of life “under the sun” is spelled out again very clearly. Whilst there is plenty we can and should do to change how we live to minimise our impact on both other people and the environment, that is not the point of this passage. Today’s except doesn’t offer much solace, other than in verse 12, where we see that those who do an honest day’s work will be able to sleep well.
So what can we take from today’s passage? Throughout Scripture, God encourages his people to be generous and fair to the poor, but He also reminds us that His justice is coming one way or another – so it is much better that we choose to act justly than to be on the wrong end of God’s justice. In Matthew 26:11 Jesus tells his disciples: “The poor you will always have with you”. But He didn’t mean ignore them, rather He meant that we should always be prepared to give and help and we can do that in so many ways, whether that is how and where we spend our money or even how we help those in need more directly, whether financially or speaking out on behalf of those who can’t.
Perhaps today is a good time to re-evaluate our priorities, just as Ian mentioned in his sermon on Sunday morning, so that we are aligning ourselves with God’s priorities, rather than our own.
Let us pray: Father God, thank you for all you have given us. Thank you that we live in a wealthy nation and we have so many freedoms that we enjoy and even take for granted, whilst so many people around the world do not share our privileges. Today would you please open our eyes to the poor and oppressed in our midst that we can help. Amen.
Tomorrow’s reading: Ecclesiastes 5:13-20