There is a pit that develops in my stomach every time
I drive on Saddle Creek road in Omaha, Nebraska. In a mere five
blocks, there are five (perhaps more) cash advance-lending establishments.
Such businesses do not exist as you drive further west in Omaha.
As in other major cities around the United States, these businesses
are strategically positioned where the greatest populations of the
poor of the city are located. These businesses prey upon those who
are already marginalized and oppressed by society. I cannot help
but question where is the justice in all of this. The interest rates
are exorbitant and it would be a miracle if the borrower were actually
able to pay the loan back. What typically happens is that the borrowers
must default on the loans and fall deeper and deeper into debt.
These predatory lending institutions are in business to take advantage
of the weakest members of society and to further the cycle of poverty.
I mention the above observations because it is a type of structural
sin. Our society allows these lending institutions to continue.
The readings today, especially from Exodus and Matthew’s gospel,
are incredibly powerful and counter-cultural and serve to remind
all Christians of our duties to our neighbors. First, the reading
in Exodus helps us to consider who our neighbors are. In Exodus
22:20, God says, “You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”
Thus, all people, despite nationality, race, spoken language, are
equal in the eyes of the Lord. As followers of God, we should imitate
the Creator’s actions and respect all people, regardless of
their origins. In interpreting this passage further, the Heavenly
One would require that all people be given the opportunities to
seek the same standard of living and chance for citizenship. With
this idea, I think it is necessary that all the faithful should
look at the ways in which foreigners are being received in this
country and consider whether it is hospitable and whether it is
the manner in which God would receive those who are aliens in a
Likewise, in Exodus, God reveals that it is sinful to deprive one’s
neighbor of the basic needs. God says, “If you take your neighbor's
cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for
this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What
else has he to sleep in?” (Exodus 22:25 – 26). For what
is gained by depriving one’s neighbor of the ability to live
comfortably? Clearly, when all people are able to live with dignity,
society as a whole is better.
Economically speaking, in providing those who are in need of a loan
with fair terms of lending, the individual or family will likely
be able to better their living conditions and subsequently be able
to participate more in the market and consume with more frequency.
Thus, all will benefit. Businesses will make more money and the
needy will be able to achieve a better standard of living. Jesus
affirms the teachings in Exodus saying that by loving one’s
neighbor, one is effectively loving God. It is in the other that
we come to see Christ and meet God. Therefore, in disrespecting
or oppressing our neighbor or a foreigner, we disrespect and alienate
God and work for the destruction of the Kingdom. Whatever happened
to the idea of loaning money or personal items to another on the
notion of good faith that they/it will be returned? We in the United
States live in a country of abundance. If we are not using an item
(or some money), wouldn’t it be prudent to allow it to be
put to use and at the same time better the lives of those around