First Sunday of Advent
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Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
In 1609, John Smith quoted part of our 2 Thessalonians reading to the early colonists of Jamestown, Virginia
…the greater part must be more industrious, or starve…
You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled). For the labors of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain a hundred and fifty idle loiterers
In 1917, Russian Communist, Vladmir Lenin used this phrase about “Those who do not work shall not eat,” in his work “State and Revolution.” Lenin used this phrase to target bourgeois elites who exploit the poor and reap the fruits of their labors.
In 2013, Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher quoted this passage, “Anyone who is unwilling to work should not eat,” as justification for attempting to the cut the SNAP program by 4.1 billion dollars. His justification was that welfare recipients should not have to depend on outside assistance and should simply work harder to provide for their basic needs.
John Smith, Vladmir Lenin, and Stephen Fincher were wrong about this passage. They all removed it from their setting, the Church, and molded it to fit their own agendas.
John Smith used 2 Thessalonians to inspire his fellow colonists to work hard for survival. Not a bad purpose, but this passage is not about the work of colony building, but about the work of the Church.
Vladmir Lenin used 2 Thessalonians to attempt to hold upper class, bourgeois accountable for their inaction in contributing to the welfare of society as a whole. Again, this is not such a bad idea in theory but this passage is not about equalizing social structures, but about the work of the church.
Stephen Fincher used 2 Thessalonians to villainize the recipients of welfare benefits and falsely cast such folks as primarily lazy, conniving moochers. He ignores the fact that in 2012 nearly half of SNAP recipients were children and 10% were elderly. He also ignores the fact that many of the recipients of SNAP are working- often full-time, but wages are so low and costs are so high that a full-time employee earning minimum wage still earns an annual income almost a third below the poverty line. 2 Thessalonians is not a biblical admonition to vilify the poor and kick them when they are already down. It is also not about how a nation should or should not provide for its most vulnerable citizens, but it is about the work of the Church. Continue reading