Saturday, October 25, 2008

Theology at the Theatre 3

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean had been 'redeemed' by the Bishop's gift of the silver candlesticks, and departs. The next time we meet him is as the Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, where he also owns a factory. Acts One properly opens with the big song 'At The End of the Day', portraying the terrible living conditions of the poor who work in Valjean's factory:

At the end of the day you're another day older
And that's all you can say for the life of the poor
It's a struggle, it's a war
And there's nothing that anyone's giving
One more day standing about, what is it for?
One day less to be living.

As if that wasn't bad enough, verse two has a guilty verdict for 'the righteous.'

At the end of the day you're another day colder
And the shirt on your back doesn't keep out the chill
And the righteous hurry past
They don't hear the little ones crying

And the winter is coming on fast, ready to kill
One day nearer to dying!

Is this true? Do the righteous (or the self-righteous) disregard the call of the poor? It's so easy to say "I've no change" or "sorry I'm in a rush" and ignore the poor and needy. What a shame.

I remember a teacher telling us one time that we shouldn't give money to help the poor because Jesus said you will always have the poor with you (John 12:8) - therefore there'll always be poor people no matter what you do to help. I think he said it in jest, but it might just reveal an unspoken reticence to hear the cry of the poor.

Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The religious people don't come off too good in the story. Both the Priest and the Levite hurried past, no doubt with good reason or justification. But the poor man who had been attacked was left in his wounds.

How does our attitude fit with the Gospel, which is 'good news to the poor' (Isaiah 61:1)? Similarly, the prophet Amos was highly critical of those who oppress the poor (Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:4).

Especially in these days of the credit crunch and talk of recession, there are likely to be more poor people in our communities. How will the righteous respond to this challenge?

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