The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday are bracing. They speak of destroyed cities, exilic experience and leadership failure. They sound much like the America many are enduring.
Lamentations begins with this poignant description: “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations” (Lamentations 1:1a). 

Psalm 137 offers the fitting response: “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.”

Sacked, overrun, deported, the people of God mourn their great losses. They cry out to God who, seemingly, has been complicit in their suffering. Their “cry of absence” echoes in the void.

Looking at pictures of vacated homes in Detroit, New Orleans and Kansas City, I perceive the devastation endured before departure. 

To abandon one’s home is an act of desperation, truly. The scenes are almost apocalyptic, a portent of more to come.

As I write, Congress is in a protracted debate about how our government will finance its future. Fiscal hawks and protectors of a form of the “social contract” are vigorously contesting funding health care, the U.S. Defense budget and educational initiatives, among other issues. 

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading presses the urgent question: “What about Lazarus?” (Luke 16:19-31). How does the lived experience of the poor factor into these debates?

Cosseted Congress members do not live at the margin, bereft of resources, with little influence to shape policy. Rather, working at a macro level, the reality of unemployment and consequent poverty too often remains an abstraction.

One of the beginning songs of “Les Miserables” presses the prisoner to “Look down, look down” – as the only fitting posture for the incarcerated 24601. 

In our day, it would be fitting to call upon political leaders to shift their gaze downward and consider the real consequences of unabated laissez-faire capitalism.

In earlier times, churches were the places of healing, sustenance and refuge for the suffering. 

Generous hospitality extended hope to these, and life redeemed through Christian community had significant impact on the social landscape. It is time for churches to resume this work or enhance good practices already occurring.

The congressional debate will go on as leaders seek to address the government shutdown. My prayer is that “Lazarus” is not lost from view in the discourse.

If churches ignore the devastating consequences of failed policies and failed leadership, we have abandoned our vocation of preaching and being good news to the poor.

Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan. A version of this column first appeared on her blog, Trinitarian Soundings, and is used with permission.

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