Welfare Has Become a Four-Letter Word

My sermon on Sunday focused on the passage in Jeremiah in which he addressed the exiles in Babylon. He gives the odd advice that they should “seek the welfare of the city into which you have been exiled for in its welfare you shall find your own welfare.”

The word “welfare” is an inadequate translation of the Jewish word “shalom,” which means peace, wholeness, and abundance of life. Jeremiah is calling them to seek those things for the place where they are exiled because, in so doing, they will find shalom in their own lives.

Today, you and I are exiled in a land where “welfare” has become a four-letter word. Some of our fellow citizens seem to have an obsessive fear that a poor person, especially a poor person of color, might get some of their tax dollars. The might get “welfare” that they don’t deserve.

“Seek the welfare of the city” God commands; that is “help the city fare well … be free of need or want.” That is so God. It isn’t about what they deserve, because these people have taken them away from their home.

This seems, though, to be how Jeremiah believes that the reign of God expands into Babylon. Work for the Reign of God wherever you are, because your full life of abundance can only exist when others live full lives of abundance. How have we missed that in this country?

The strange part is that we have to fix the meaning of “welfare” to hear the verse. It means to keep people free of need and want if we want our own lives to fare well and be at peace. As Dr. Seuss said:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

By Michael Piazza
Co-Executive Director
Center for Progressive Renewal


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