5,700 feet underground is enough to stir up anybody’s latent claustrophobia. Although I suppose that if you’re used to being that far down and are doing it for a living (as miners do), it’s pretty much old hat to you. Unless, of course, your way back up to the surface has been blocked, as was the case with South African miners in the Harmony Gold mine west of Johannesburg. They were digging over a mile underground when apparently a magnitude-2.4 tremor shook a large rock loose, tumbling it into a metal cable, causing a spark that ignited combustible material into an underground fire, trapping eight men in that subterranean dark. Several years ago in almost the same place in South Africa I descended 742 feet into a gold mine in a small elevator with other tourists (the certificate of proof is still on my study wall)—and trust me, I was more concerned about getting back up to the surface than enjoying the chilled-air sights of that abandoned mine!
I can’t imagine the concerns of these miners trapped so much farther down. Although on this Black History Sabbath, it may not be so difficult to imagine a vast swath of this nation and this world’s populace trapped in the deep shaft of poverty. The news last week: “At least 500,000 people will lose their food stamp benefits this year as many states revert back to a strict three-month limitation on benefits, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. At the extreme, as many as one million of the country's poorest people will lose food assistance, which averages $150 to $170 per person per month. Those affected are people aged 18 to 49 who aren't disabled or raising minor children. Most of them live a subsistence existence, scraping by with the help of government and charitable organizations and low income jobs, although college students are also eligible.” (www.cnbc.com/2016/01/26/why-half-a-million-people-will-lose-their-food-stamps-this-year.html)
What’s all of this have to do with such fervent “We have this hope” Adventists like you and me? Maybe everything. Commenting on Jesus’ familiar words in His final parable about the sheep and the goats and “the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine” (Matthew 25:40 NIV), Desire of Ages makes this startling observation: “[Jesus] represented [the judgment’s] decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering” (637).
On this Black History Sabbath the truth is—the unfailing standard in the final judgment will be what we have done or neglected to do for Jesus “in the person of the poor and the suffering.” Black (as in clean-water impoverished Flint, Michigan), white, brown or yellow, it doesn’t matter. The narrative of freedom this nation is still struggling to write has “poverty” written all over it. Thus every worshiper is under the obligation of Christ’s compassion to live out His compassion toward those we clearly know are trapped—those who can only be set free if we will volunteer, if we will give, if we will reject racial stereotypes for the sake of living out Jesus’ radical love.
The student bus for Flint on Valentine’s Day still has a few seats left—call campus ministry (269.471.3211) to get on the bus and join the Freedom Train.