Contemplative – Holiness – Charismatic – Social Justice – Evangelical – Incarnational
You can’t read the Bible honestly without picking up on God’s heart for justice for the poor and oppressed. There are countless verses about caring for the poor, the immigrant, the overlooked, and the vulnerable in society.
The Old Testament prophet Amos declared in no uncertain terms that sacrifices, ceremonies, and other religious practices were insufficient for a life with God. He insisted that social righteousness, that is justice in the social realm, was absolutely central to a life that’s pleasing to God. As a prophet, Amos was scandalized by the blatant injustices that had become so commonplace that no one seemed to notice.
We looked at this passage last Sunday morning, but it’s worth reading again.
They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.
Look at these scandals one by one.
- Selling the needy for a pair of sandals – Creditors sold the weak and vulnerable into slavery even when the debt owed was as trivial as a pair of sandals.
- Trampling on the heads of the poor as on the dust – The powerbrokers of the day used brutal, callous oppression over those who were without power and influence.
- Father and son using the same girl – Fathers took advantage of the cultural inability of women to stand up for their rights and forcing their daughters-in-law into sex.
- Lying down beside every altar of garments taken in pledge – The wealthy exploited the destitute by refusing to return a coat that was given in pledge even though the coat was desperately needed for warmth
- Drinking wine taken as fines – Rigged courts assessed exorbitant fines and then officials lived it up with the money they took.
I don’t know about you, but I am guilty of none of this. Amos has nothing on me.
Therein lies the trouble, or maybe the challenge, for us. This may not be our list of scandals, but it invites us to examine our own lives. In what ways have I failed to be concerned with the poor, the immigrant, the overlooked, and the vulnerable?
Oh, Matt…it sounds like you’re getting political.
Maybe, perhaps. There’s a risk that this sort of perspective and action gets swept up into one side or the other of a political argument. That in-and-of-itself does not negate the calling of those who claim to follow Jesus.
Jesus says this in Matthew 22.37-40.
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ ”
Love of God and Love of Neighbor
They are inseparable. Love of God compels us into compassionate love of neighbor. In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, he reminds us who our neighbor is. Your neighbor, says Jesus, is the person near you, the person in need. He refused to put walls around the word! No national heritage, no racial origin, no ethnic background, no barriers of class or culture can separate us from our neighbors.
To follow Jesus is to live a life of compassion.
Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest.
This is God’s invitation to us. But through us, it’s his invitation to our neighbors as well.