October 07, 2019

Homelessness and our Wisdom Traditions

Inspired by the outcomes of the Mercy International Reflection Process, the new vision statement of Mercy International Association has two foci: “Standing with the displaced, we will model a world of welcome and inclusion. Actively engaged in the protection of our Common Home, we will witness to the sacredness of all creation.” Homelessness, with its multi-faceted causes, is a key aspect in the scope of this vision statement. This paper, marking World Homelessness Day on October 10th, seeks to bring homelessness into dialogue with some of our biblical and mercy wisdom traditions.

Jewish Scholar, Abraham Heschel, defines prophecy as “the voice that God has lent to the silent agony of the poor, to the profaned riches of the world” (The Prophets, p. 5). Biblical prophets were not so much predictors of the future as those who challenged the oppressive structures and destructive practices of their day. They challenged the communities to change their ways.

In Isaiah 58:6-7, the prophet gives voice to God’s challenge to those who fast to serve their own purposes and who oppress their workers:

Is not this the fast that I choose:

               To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,

To let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

And bring the homeless poor into your house;

When you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

This challenge links homelessness with the results of oppressive and unjust structures and it indicates that the homeless may also be hungry and in need of clothing and relationships. Various needs are interconnected.

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