God calls us to seek justice.
In the scriptures, there are over 300 references to the poor and to justice, here are a couple:
I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
He will defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
he will crush the oppressor.
It is clear that God has a deep concern for the poor and how they should be treated. Sometimes, during lonely and dark times, I begin to have doubts about all of this. In the past I have asked myself questions like, “Should we really sell everything we own?” or “Are we doing any good driving around and loving on random people?” Recently I have asked myself questions like “Should we open our home to total strangers?” and “Do people think we are crazy?” But then I am filled with the unflinching knowledge that when we are standing in front of Jesus on the Day of Judgment He will not tell us that we loved people too much, or that we sought to bring peace and justice to our neighborhood too often. Seeking justice is close to the Lord’s heart.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
We might not be community organizers who are developing an action plan to impact our neighborhood. We have never taken part in a protest for human rights or against injustice. We have not organized people to put pressure on our legislators to improve some aspect of our lives. We have simply decided that we are going to treat those who the Lord puts in front of us with as much respect, dignity and love as we are possible of giving. We screw up – daily. We resist the individualistic suburban pull to go in our house and sit on our sofa and look at all of our things – and many times, we fail.
We have simply found that one of the most obvious, relevant and effective ways we can bring justice to our community is through food. In every culture throughout all of human history, food symbolizes something more than subsistence. Food symbolizes a bond, a connection between people from all over the world, regardless of culture or language. We can begin to break the chains of injustice that face so many people, even in our affluent country (although much less so), which is the scarcity of food. We can help by breaking the fear of where the next meal will come from, or if food will be available for a mother’s child next Tuesday.
The Year of the Jubilee (or the acceptable year of the Lord)
In Leviticus 25, God gives Moses instructions to pass along to the people of Israel. Every 7 years the people were to leave their fields fallow – to grow nothing, to give it complete rest. They were instructed to not store away any of the crops either. They were to eat, along with their servants, hired workers and immigrants, only “what the land produces.” They are told that if they do this, that God will bless them abundantly, providing enough crops for the next two seasons following the Sabbath year.
On the seventh Sabbath year, they were to proclaim the “acceptable year of the Lord,” or the Year of the Jubilee. The Jubilee was to be a year were debt was canceled, property was returned to the original owner, and slaves and prisoners were set free. “Temporary residents” and foreigners were to be treated like relatives, the poor were to be embraced and loved as brothers and sisters.
This was God’s way of hitting the reset button on injustices that had been created and exploited.
Good News for the Oppressed
There is a great amount of evidence that suggests that the people of Israel actually followed the Sabbath Year. Even in the days of Jesus archeological findings show that a Sabbatical year was occurring on much of the farm land. However, the Year of the Jubilee was too much, rarely were prisoners and slaves set free or land returned to the original owner. So around 740 BC the prophet Isaiah tells the people: “Remember the Year of the Jubilee? Why are you no longer following God’s instructions?” Then he says,
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.
The “year of the Lord’s favor” was the Jubilee Year. Isaiah is begging his listeners, under the influence of the “Spirit of the Sovereign Lord,” to seek justice. This is not some metaphysical freeing. This is not some supernatural breaking of oppression and preaching of the Good News. This is “Good News” for the poor – breaking the chains of injustice.
Then again, in Luke 4, when Jesus begins His overt public ministry by preaching in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, he repeats Isaiah 61. Jesus brought a new kind of Jubilee. One that was much like the old one, but better.
We want to seek justice through the Jubilee every day. We want our lives to be more than redistribution (the Leviticus version of Jubilee), which in itself is good, but incomplete. We want our lives to be about redistribution and reconciliation (the Jesus version of the Jubilee). When we can hold what the Lord has given us with an open hand (redistribution) and seek to build relationships with God and our neighbors (reconciliation) we will be more than community organizers, we will be helping to build the Kingdom of God.
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