He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty. Proverbs 22, verse 16.
I like to people-watch. At the gym the other day, I watched a familiar couple exit the facility and walk out to their car. She is a workout maniac; he’s in good shape but doesn’t seem to have his heart in it. BUT, he always walks ahead of her, never gets the door for her, talks down to her in conversation and appears to be, in general, a typical example of what I consider to be a male chauvinist. She follows him like a puppy. I watched them leave and asked myself ‘what does someone like her see in someone like him’ and ‘why do women let themselves be treated that way?’
It seemed like he was oppressing the poor, she being poor of esteem. Mind you, this is all pretty superficial and I know nothing more of their relationship. I only see this couple at the gym and don’t even know their names. 90% of our communication is non-verbal, however, and if that’s the case, then non-verbally they were projecting a lot of oppression. He had her number and he knew it. She let him control her. Crazy.
What about real oppression? I’ve spent years of my life living paycheck to paycheck; it’s one of the reasons there has been such trouble in my life. For someone with a great job and many, many blessings, I have been debt-poor. I’ve felt very oppressed by bad choices, and I’ve felt the boot of the system set against people who make them; it’s the way of things. But, again, that’s just the results of bad choices, many of them mine. What about that real oppression? It’s a Uganda answer, where both the system and the power structure are set against a poverty-stricken population that can’t seem to rise out of it on its own. It’s a China answer, where the vast majority of Chinese support the urban and manufacturing minority that holds all the wealth: insured by Communist Mafioso dictators in Beijing dipping their beaks into the ‘wealth’ of the people who literally slave for them. In time, they will both come to their own poverty. If you’re a Communist, you’re already spiritually bankrupt anyway.
I also have little time for ‘suck-up’s.’ You’ve seen them. They’re the people who flatter their way through things, or try to put on airs, or try to be part of the in-crowd. Such things earn a big ‘whatever’ from me. Throughout my life, I have never been glamorous, attractive or elegant; neither have I been trashy, slovenly, nor inelegant. I simply didn’t (and don’t) care what the glitterati think of me. If ‘the beautiful people’ enjoy themselves, good for them. I’m beautiful in my own way and really don’t need the validation of anyone else to tell me that. To cite Max Lucado, I’m Punchinello, and it doesn’t matter if people like to pick on my spots or not. What the Maker thinks of me is what matters.
And that’s the point of the proverb, isn’t it? It all goes back to what the Maker thinks of us. He will justly level the field against those who oppress and those who flatter because He loves both sides. He loves the poor and He loves the rich. He loves the oppressor and the oppressed. He loathes the sinful way we treat each other; hate the sin but love the sinner. I believe the Proverb is yet another reminder that God is just and fair, that He isn’t disinterested in our lives, and (indirectly) that He really does have the whole world in His hands because He really does love us in spite of ourselves.
Sometimes I think we set low expectations for our relationships. We think, “this is as good as it’s ever going to be.” Or “this is what I deserve.” Maybe that’s what’s behind the gym couple I saw. That’s a deceptive form of subtle oppression. It keeps us from having the kind of fulfilling, really enriching relationship that God wants for us and wants to have with us. I’ve never been much of one for the bar scene. I really enjoy going out with friends and having a few drinks to talk, be social, and relax. But it’s something I can easily live without. Just not my scene; no offense if it’s something you enjoy. I’ll say this, though: like the gym, a bar is a good place to people watch. You get to see all kinds of dynamics in play. For me, though, I prefer to do things with a special someone that bring us closer together, build memories I’m proud of. That includes involving Him in them because I want the most from this life. Let me be less so He can be more. Let Him be more in my life to drive away the oppressors and avoid the poverty of the soul that comes with punishing debt, low expectations, tough choices, and spiritual loneliness.