“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
A loophole is a condition or application of a law that allows for a person to subtly circumvent the law itself—all without formally breaking that law. We’re pretty good at finding loopholes in our tax laws here in American, come April 15th! But let’s put ourselves in the sandals of those to whom this text was originally written—the Jewish people of Israel, approximately 1400 BC. Let’s pretend that we’re just finishing breakfast, and are preparing to head to our field to put in a long day’s work. We look out the door of our small, stone house and see a poorly dressed man, standing. He’s obviously waiting for us to come outside.
I say, “Oh, great. There’s another one of them today. What are we going to do? We can’t become village lunch ticket!”
You say, “He’s poor, we’ve got to help him. ““If there is a poor man with you…””
“How do you know he’s poor,” I say. “He’s got shoes on his feet, clothes on his back. He walked here; he could just as easily have walked down the road to the next farm.”
You say, “But he’s a brother, like it says, “one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you…”
“Let’s not get literalistic or fundamenalistic here!” I say. “How do you know he’s a Jewish brother, or from this town? And sure, God may have giving the nation this land…but we’ve worked it ourselves, and own it, and need to be good stewards of it, not giving its produce away to every guy that comes along looking for a handout.”
You say, “It’s commanded, “you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother.”
“Well,” I say, relieved and a bit offended, “you certainly don’t know my heart, do you? This is an issue between me and God. Remember, “Judge not!”
“Right,” you say, “…but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
“Yes! I’m glad you quoted that verse,” I say. Lend! Lend! We’re supposed to lend him what he needs—NOT give, but lend!
“But how can you lend something to someone who doesn’t have any way to repay it? And how can you even know that he’ll be around to repay it,” I say.
“But you just said that you don’t know that he’s really poor. You said, “He’s got shoes on his feet, clothes on his ba—“
“Right!” I say. We can’t know, so how can we really apply this literally, without some sort of verifica—“
Suddenly, I don’t have your attention anymore. You’re looking out the doorway.
“He’s gone now,” you say.
“Just as well,” I say. But I’m thinking “Mission accomplished.”
And I say, as if changing the subject, “Tomorrow, let’s eat breakfast on the back porch. It’s nice and quiet there in the mornings.”
Reposted from May, 2009.