Friday, October 21, 2005

Part 5 -- The promotion of social righteousness

Early in Jesus'’ ministry, he read from a scroll in the Nazareth synagogue. In doing so he announced himself as the one whom the selection from the Scroll of Isaiah foretold:

Isa 61:1 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,

Isa 61:2
to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favor...

The Isaiah passage goes on a few verses later with a clear statement of where the Lord stands:

Isa 61:8 “For I, the LORD, love justice;
I hate robbery and iniquity.
In my faithfulness I will reward them
and make an everlasting covenant with them. -- NIV

The Lord sides unequivocally with the oppressed.

During the final week of Jesus'’ earthly ministry he taught his followers many parables and told them of what was to come. Among his illustrations was the following:

Mt 25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Mt 25:34 "“Then the King will say to those on his right, '‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Mt 25:37 “"Then the righteous will answer him, '‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'’

Mt 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'– -- NIV

It isn'’t enough to believe that Jesus is the Anointed One and to preach the Good News. Our preaching is measured by the practice to which we put it. An oversimplification of the difference between the liberal and evangelical churches is that the liberals tend to concentrate their efforts on social issues while evangelicals tend to concentrate on preaching the Gospel. My own personal sense is that this is not a useful distinction between liberals and evangelicals. There is a distribution of beliefs and practice in all churches, and I suspect that there is more overlap than people believe. What both sides need to accept is that this isn't an either/or situation; Scripture makes that crystal clear.

Isaiah spoke out on behalf of the Lord to the politicians of his day in terms quite harsh:

Isa 10:1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,

Isa 10:2
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

Isa 10:3
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

Isa 10:4
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised. -- NIV

Not only are we called to work on behalf of the poor and oppressed, but when we see political structures that lead to oppression, we are to speak prophetically to our leaders. It would seem a little presumptuous to speak the way Isaiah did, but letters to legislators or governors or presidents are always appropriate. When the offenders are corporate leaders it is no less imperative that we speak from our faith and knowledge of what the Lord requires (Micah 6:8).

Our failure to do so calls into question our commitment to following Jesus.

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