Written by Winnie Fung (Board Member of CEDAR Fund, Academic Head of Lumina College)
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy… Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…
When you read this passage, what jumps out?
Many of us may answer: the seventh day is meant for rest.
However, for the impoverished, it may be the opposite. Justo L. González, in his book Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes, shares about a pastor who, when preaching this passage, asked his poor and urban congregation: How many of you were able to work six days last week? A couple hands went up. Four days? A few more. Two days? A lot more. How many of you wanted to work six days but couldn’t find work? Almost all hands shot up.
For this group of brothers and sisters, it is verse 13, not 14, that captures their attention: ‘Six days you shall labor…’ For them, it is not just a command but also a promise from God. ‘Six days you shall labor’ is no less part of the order that God desires for humankind than resting on the seventh day.
Have we been interpreting this passage wrongly by focusing on rest? Not at all. Rest is much needed in our busy society. But this example illustrates how each of us comes to Scripture with blind spots. While the Bible is written for both the poor and nonpoor, in reality, a lot of biblical interpretation are done by the nonpoor.
We focus on the command to rest, often to the exclusion of the command to work, because we read the Bible from the perspective of one who does not need to worry about work. If instead we read ‘from the margins,’ from the perspective of the poor, we get a fuller picture of God’s intention for the work-rest rhythm for humankind. We will be rightly indignant not only at practices that treat human beings as non-stop machines, but also at economic and societal structures that perpetuate unemployment and underemployment for certain groups in society.
Hence the question is not simply, ‘What does the Bible say about the poor?’ but ‘What does the Bible say when read from the perspective of the poor?’ Once we ask this question, we will encounter a much richer, deeper, and broader picture of who God is and what His love, mercy, and justice mean.
Reading Scripture from the margins allows us a richer and more multifaceted encounter of God’s love, mercy, and justice. Without the perspectives of the poor, we miss precious things from the Bible. It is not learning about the poor or learning about how to help them. The poor
themselves have much to offer us. May we receive.