The Poor? No Big Deal. They Can Just Get Jobs.


Proper 20 
Pentecost +17


Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.–Amos 8:4-7

The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation.
 

For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people. The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.
Your imagination and your initiative and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.
The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what is adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods. But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.–Lyndon Baines Johnson, May 22, 1964
The vision of a Great Society lasted two generations, so maybe that’s not so bad, considering the fleeting nature of most human endeavors. But news this week that the U.S. poverty rate has reached levels not seen since 1960 was greeted mostly by yawns. We were far more interested in Lindsay Lohan’s cocaine-fueled Tweets than in whether or not our actions have trampled on the needy and brought ruin to the poor. 
Like Israel in Amos’ day, we long for a mythical free market, where there are no restraints on buying or selling, and where getting a little extra profit at the expense of public health and safety is no big deal. The problem, we believe, is too much regulation, and too many lazy people who don’t want to work. If all those people who are newly poor would just go get jobs, and quit whining about how hard their lives are, we could all get some peace. After all, there are forty million poor Americans in a country with thirty million illegal immigrants. So fully three quarters of our poverty would instantly vanish if we send them all back to Mexico or El Salvador and let the poor pick our tomatoes. Then we could just forget all those ridiculous anti-poverty programs. 
Of course, Amos has to go spoil it all by saying that God isn’t going to forget. But what’s a little divine wrath if it means lower taxes? 

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