30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 27th, 2013
“The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor.” For many these words sound comforting. It is nice to know that God cares for the poor; they certainly need all the care they can get. Others give this phrase a spiritual interpretation; God hears the cry of those who are spiritually impoverished. It is nice to know that God hears their cry as well.
But I am not sure these interpretations are what Sirach had in mind in our first reading. Sirach declares, “[God] hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan or to the widow when she pours out her complaint.” Clearly we are not talking about a desire for a comforting word of care from God and clearly we are not dealing with the spiritually poor.
Sirach is talking about poor and powerless people who are oppressed and who “wail” and “pour out a complaint” to God. And who are the tormentors of these poor and oppressed people? In the scriptures they are often referred to as the rich and the powerful. They are judges, kings, landowners, tax collectors and religious and political leaders in biblical times. They are the ones who have more than they need and who build bigger barns to hold their excess wealth and goods.
Today, among the poor and powerless who wail and poor out their complaint to God are the undocumented immigrants who are forced to live in the shadows of our communities because their desire to keep their children from dying in poverty is greater than their fear of breaking our laws. They are not looking for a handout; they want to live with dignity and respect. This is why comprehensive immigration reform is so important for them.
They want legal status so they can live without fear and contribute to society like everyone else. They do not want to live in constant worry that members of their family might be snatched from them and deported. They want what every immigrant to this country has desired since the first settlers came here.
Unfortunately what they find too often are Americans that resemble the Pharisee in today’s Gospel. “I thank you O God that I am not like these illegal aliens. My ancestors had permission to come to this land. I have my papers and I pay my taxes.”
Meanwhile these poor and powerless undocumented immigrants wail and pour out their complaint to God. “O God, I know I am in this country illegally. Have mercy on me and my family.”
Who do you think is justified before God?
Sirach tells us that the Lord hears the cry of the poor. Should Americans hear these words as a comfort or as a warning? If God does hear the cry of these poor what does that mean for us. Sirach warns, “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds.”
Pax Christi members have been walking with our immigrant brothers and sisters in the struggle for comprehensive immigration reform for many years. Sometimes we are tempted to despair. Let’s keep our hearts focused on the promise, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” And let us never tire of the journey.