Mark is a farmer in the Midwest. He moved there from Michigan with his family several years ago, bought some acreage, and began farming. Within six months a large hog confinement operation began on land bordering his farm. The dream of a family farm and a quiet rural life soon became a nightmare of unrelenting odors, fouled water, and bad relationships. Mark and his wife began to challenge the neighboring operation legally and have since become part of a class action lawsuit to stop it. While they continue to farm, their lives have been filled with threats from neighbors who see them opposing something that has raised the economic level of the area, and they have received anonymous phone messages telling them to move if they don't like it.
Mark and his family attend a local church where they receive some support for their position and are nurtured spiritually. They also work with a number of church-related organizations that support family farmers who are trying to stay in business and maintain a quality of rural life. Meanwhile, rural America in the Heartland continues to undergo rapid changes that see long-time family businesses broken up, family farms bought by absentee developers, and towns that continue to lose locally owned businesses.
Some people say that this kind of change in rural life needs to come and that there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it. Others, like Mark and his family, believe that the preservation of rural culture is worth fighting for, and that local control over resources and the land is still a value to be upheld.
Jesus' words from the Beatitudes speak to these times in the Heartland. He spoke to people who were disenfranchised, powerless to make things happen. He told them there was another kingdom, not of this world, in which their aspirations were honored. He also assured them that God recognized their plight, and would uphold them. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man"(Luke 6:22).
There are people throughout our land who are in just such a predicament today. In February we observe Black History Month, a time to recognize a whole people of our culture who have been hated, reviled, and excluded because of their race.
As old urban neighborhoods undergo re-development, poor people are often forced to relocate, far from good sources of public transport and neighborhood resources on which they depend. Who hears the cry of their plight?
Jesus tells us that God hears them, sees their predicament, and intends justice to be their reward. Luke even adds a section of woes to the Beatitudes to show the coming reversal, when the poor, the undervalued, the excluded, and the reviled will be the joyous and those who have had it good will be impoverished, hungry, and in mourning.
The Gospel never settles for accommodation. Jesus demands justice and truth. As the lesson from Jeremiah so aptly reminds us, "I the Lord test the mind and search the heart to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings"(Jer 17:10).
Today would be a good day to do two things: First, examine your life to be sure you are addressing situations where your success is purchased at the cost of others' well-being and personal dignity. And where that is the case, to make changes, avoiding personal prosperity at the expense of others. Second, if you are feeling a loss of control over your life because of the decisions of others, if you are excluded and ignored, remember you are in good company. Your God is one who comes to you in blessing, and has given you the Kingdom.