Bread – Needy

June 30, 2017

Psalm 72

For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.”  Ps. 72:12-13

There are three actors in these verses, two apparent and one disguised.

The first apparent actor is described as both a noun and an adjective.  Man is both the “needy” (the noun) and the “needy (man)” (the adjective).

Who are these needy and what do they need so badly that they are needy.  When we answer the what, it will identify the who.  When we think of need, we most often think of physical issues have to do with money.  He or she needs a job, needs a shelter, and/or needs food and water.  We have a famous researcher who has described a ‘hierarchy of needs,” and these needs for shelter and food are first on the list.  At the top of the list is the need to be appreciated, to be wanted or desired, to have our pride stroked.  In between are the needs for safety and security (free from worry) and companionship.

We make a big mistake when we believe that the only needy people are the ones in the food lines.  The truth is that all of us are needy of these things, but also things like hope, safety, security, friendship, and dignity.

So the answer to the “who are the needy” question is “Everyone.”  You, me, them … everyone is needy.

So now that we have identified who the needy person is, who is the the second obvious actor.  It is the “he” in the sentence, which relates back to an earlier verse, the first verse, where the “he” is the king, which in the case of this specific Psalm could have been Solomon.

Since the “king” today is the government, perhaps these verses could be interpreted as a command that us, the needy, are to turn to the government (the king) for the fulfillment of our needs, to fulfill our need for food and health care, our need for safety and security, our need for dignity in the word, and our need for companionship.  And so, in the mad rush to fill our needs, our world would have us turn to the “obvious” king for deliverance, to the state.

And so the natural course of man is to give to the state the power to “help” them, and in so doing give up their individual rights to the collective.

Entire civilizations and philosophies are founded on this principal, that it is the “king” who protects, to delivers good things, who feeds, etc. his needy people.

But to do so ignores the silent actor in these verses, the disguised actor.  Who is this?  Well, I think it becomes obvious when we remove the written attempts to bring God to our level and change the verses so that they now read: “For He delivers the needy when he calls, and poor and him who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.”  What have I changed?  One letter in one word.  I changed “For he…” to “For He…

And now you know the rest of the story.  The “He” who delivers is the King of the Psalm, the Messiah, Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  It is not the man-king but the God-King.

Because we are needy, we will look to a king to deliver us from those needs, to save us.  If we are secular and have no faith in Christ, the king is the state and we will want the state to feed us, teach us, raise us, nurture us, build us into communities of the king’s making, and love us.  This is slavery unto death but it is the choice of needy people who only see the little “king.”

If we believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are still needy but the source of our deliverance is a different king, a King Jesus, Creator of the world.  Our King is King and we will look to Him, Father, and Holy Spirit to feed us, teach us, raise us, build us into communities of His making, and love us.  This is slavery unto life and is the choice of those who see the big “King.”

You are needy.  Which king will deliver you?


© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.







Bread – Servants

May 14, 2012

Readings for Monday, May 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 25:35-55; Col. 1:9-14; Matt. 13:1-16; Psalms 77, 79, 80


Among entrepreneurs there is a joke which goes something like this – “the benefit of being an entrepreneur is that I get to choose which 80 hours a week I have to work.” This sounds good until you realize that, if you are working 80 hours a week, there is very little choice as to when those hours are. The choice has an appearance of reality but the fact of non-existence. The entrepreneur is a servant to his or her customers or market or competitors, and it is they in reality who tell the entrepreneur what to do and when to do it. The perceived independence is a mirage.

But the Bible does not deal in jokes; it deals in reality. As a result, we have the reading today from Leviticus which concerns the problem of poor people and how they are treated. There are basically four ways this is done.

The first way is if there is a family and the brother “becomes” poor. This way seems to assume that the “poorness” has some kind of temporary feature to it. God through Leviticus says “If your brother becomes poor nd cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.” Lev. 25:35

The second way assumes there is a family and the brother “becomes” poor and, by implication, stays that way for an extended period of time. In this case, God through Leviticus says: “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave; he shall be to you as a hired servant and as a sojourner.” Lev. 25:39-40.

The third way assumes that the poor person has sold himself to a third party, even though he has a family. In that case, the sold person becomes more like a permanent servant to the purchasers, but can be redeemed (paid for) by the family. “If … your brother beside him [the stranger] becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed.” Lev. 25:47-48

The fourth way assumes that the poor person has no family but is so poor he has to sell himself. In that case, the poor person becomes a slave with no right to be repurchased or set free. “You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property … you may make slaves of them.: Lev. 25:45-46

With respect to those members of the family of God, they are set free from whatever bondage they have in the year of Jubilee. With respect to those persons who are not members of the family of God, they are not set free.

There are several observations from this Leviticus reading today. First, everyone who is poor is in a dependent, servant relationship to someone who is not. The poor person who is temporarily poor is dependent upon his family. The poor person whose state is such that he has had to sell himself to his family is a servant to that family. The poor person whose state is such that he has to sell himself to a third party, even though he has family, is a servant to that third person and, if he has no family within the family of God, is actually a slave to that third person.

Second, the family member who is rich is a servant to someone who is poor. The rich person with a poor relative who is temporarily poor “shall support him” and there is no mention of the recipient’s showing any gratitude by helping around the house. The rich person with a poor relative who is more permanently poor must release that person at Jubilee, whether or not the “debt” of assistance is every re-paid.

Third, the only person who is not set free at Jubilee is the stranger who is not part of the family of God.

Fourth, the rationale for this structure is contained in the words “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” Lev. 25:38. We are to be servants to our less fortunate brothers because we were poor and received mercy from God who delivered us. “…[T]hey are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt…” Lev. 25:42. Our brothers who have sold themselves to us are to be servants and not slaves to us, released on Jubilee, because they are first God’s servants and not ours. “For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants.” Lev. 25:55. Even those brothers who have sold themselves to third parties are to be redeemed or set free because they are ultimately God’s servants and no-one elses.

Fifth, the treatment of those poor persons who are outside the family of God is very different from those members of the family. Those within the family are all servants, subject to obedience but always with the expectation of release in the year of Jubilee, and those without the family are slaves, able to be transferred as such to the next generation, gaining no benefit from the kinsman-redeemer and receiving nothing at Jubilee.

There is something which strikes the Western mind as unfair or unequal about this, and so we are inclined to substitute the government for the family of God. Government in this case tries to act like a family, taking from the rich to give to the poor, but it is a “pseudo family” and not a real one. As a result, the schema of government support always ends up in slavery – both slavery of the rich (as they are compelled to “give”) and slavery of the poor, as there is no one to redeem them from their state, they have been sold to strangers who are not family, and there is no year of Jubilee.

The Bible, on the other hand, recognizes that there are those who are in the family of God and who receive the family’s blessings and those who are not. Before one jumps to conclusions, however, that this is somehow unfair, contemplate that in God’s economy there are four groups of poor people, three of who receive the benefits of servanthood, family support, and, ultimately, redemption and forgiveness (Jubilee). In man’s economy, there may be only one group of poor people, but they are all slaves with nothing ahead of them except to passed down from generation to generation in their same condition, neither free, redeemed, or forgiven.

Since, truly, we are all poor, the real question becomes then, are we “servants” or “slaves.” The answer to that is not in attitude or choice but in relationship. Are we truly a member of the family of God? If we are, we are servants with a destiny of release, redemption, and forgiveness. If we are not, we are slaves.

In this light, maybe our prayer should be today, “God, let me be a servant.” Because the alternative is not good.


Readings for Monday, June 28th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Num. 22:1-21; Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 21:12-22
    Psalms 106

In our arrogance we proclaim that we are masters.  We pretend we are the boss and attempt to enslave those who work for us.  We create dependencies of others upon us, raising ourselves up as superior.  Who we are is reflected in our government, where handouts are promised to the mob because surely the elite know best regarding what the slaves need.

As slaves we rebel against our masters, believing that if we can but overthrow them then we become the masters, all without realizing that when we become the masters we enslave others to our bidding.

I have put this in terms of human relationship, but in today’s reading from Romans, Paul puts this in terms of our bondage to sin:

"…Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?…You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness….Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness….But now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."   Rom. 6:16, 18, 19b, 22-23

We are so pompous as to believe that being a master or a slave is a choice – we can choose to be slaves or "masters of our destiny."  Paul points out that we cannot choose between being a slave and being a master; all we can do is to choose who our master will be.  We will always be slaves with a choice – the question is not whether we will be a slave, but who will be our master.

We are slaves.  We are either slaves to the world and its opinions about right and wrong, good and evil, useful and useless, smart and stupid — or we are slaves to God, recognizing that Jesus Christ is Lord.  When we are slaves to the first, our wages are ultimately death and destruction.  When we are slaves to God, our wages are eternal life.

How easily as slaves we are tricked into thinking that the riches which the world offers are satisfying, real, and permanent.  How easily as adopted children of God our eyes are opened into realizing that the only true riches, the only real riches, the only permanent, eternal riches come from the one true master, God.

As you gird up for war today in the modern workplace, home, or school, you would like to ask the question – what or who can I master today?  Perhaps the better question is whose slave will you be today – the world’s or God’s?


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