Wineskins Archive

February 11, 2014

Justice Rolling Like a River (May-Jun 2002)

Filed under: — @ 6:10 pm and

by Mike Cope
May – June, 2002

“For many non-Christians it is not the ‘scandal of the cross’ that causes them to reject Christianity. Rather, what turns them off is the scandalous indifference of Christians.” – Ron Mitchell, Organic Faith

“What does the Lord require of you?” asks Micah. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” God longs for justice. He cares deeply about those without a voice: the weak, the poor, the oppressed.

The year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) was a radical plan, requiring the people of faith to return all property to the original owners every fifty years. In an agrarian society, this was about as basic as economic restructuring could go. Wealth was redistributed to avoid having the unbalanced situation where a few families amass enormous wealth and luxury while others just barely scrape by.

But that concern for the weak, the poor, and the oppressed didn’t just surface every half century. Every seventh year the land was to lie unplowed and unused so the poor could walk through to get what they needed (Exodus 23).

Even beyond that, God’s passion for justice extended to daily lives:

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. (Deuteronomy 15:7f)

Scripture is clear in telling us that God isn’t biased toward humans. But, out of his just nature, he is certainly partial toward all those on the bottom rung of society–in the same way that a mother spends more time rocking the child who is feverish. This God expects his people to have the same hearts of compassion and justice.

Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3f)

The prophets of Israel especially focus on God’s expectations that the poor and oppressed be cared for. (See, e.g., Isaiah 1:15-17; 3:15; 5:8; Amos 2:6-7; 4:1-2; 5:11-12, 21-24; Jeremiah 22:13-17.) As you hear these verbal attacks, you might appreciate Frederick Buechner’s observation that there’s no evidence anyone ever invited a prophet over for dinner twice!

At times the prophets decry abuse of the poor. But at other times, they condemn Israel’s failure to share, creating a huge gap between the few mega-wealthy and the many destitute.

When we realize what a dominant theme this is, taking up about two hundred pages of biblical text from the Old Testament and the New Testament (see, e.g., Luke 1:52-53; 3:7-14; 4:16-19; 6:20-25; 12:32-33; 16:19-31), when we realize that God weeps over injustice, when we understand that the church is to be salt and light in our world, then we have to ask, So what can we do?

A Place to Begin

Here are a few modest proposals for where we might begin.

First, we can try to see life from the perspective of those who don’t hold the trump cards of wealth and power. How would issues like tax cuts, gas prices, child tax credits, and the New Economy look like from the vantage point of the poor? Check out a book like Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities or Ron Sider’s Just Generosity. I especially love how Sider challenges the either/or debate between the right and left: either poverty stems from moral and spiritual choices of the individual (the right), or it results from structural, economic forces (the left). He points out that this is a both/and–not an either/or–issue.

Second, we can find places to move beyond our comfort zones. When my older son graduated from high school in 2000, we decided to take a family trip. But not a typical Disney World mecca. We joined the mission team in Jinja, Uganda (which at the time included Greg Taylor, now the New Wineskins’ managing editor, and his family) for a month. It allowed us all to see a very different side of life and to remember that middle-class America is not the norm for our world.

Explore areas where you can volunteer: medical missions, inner city ministries, English as a second language, a Boys and Girls Club after-school care program, a Habitat for Humanity project, etc. You learn quickly that you have not only much to give but much to receive from others.

Third, we can develop the habit of being extravagant in sharing. It is a wonderful discipline of grace to learn how to live more simply and frugally in order to share with others.

As you enter into the challenging thoughts of our authors in this issue, consider this pledge of the Generous Christian (from Ron Sider):

I pledge to open my heart to God’s call to care as much about the poor as the Bible does. I therefore commit:

DAILY, to pray for the poor, beginning with the Generous Christians’ prayer: “Lord Jesus, teach my heart to share your love for the poor.”
WEEKLY, to minister at least one hour, helping, serving, sharing with, and mostly, getting to know someone in need.
MONTHLY, to study at least one story, book, article, or film about the plight of the poor and hungry and discuss it with others.
YEARLY, to retreat for a few hours to meditate on this one question in light of Scripture: “Is caring for the poor as important in my life as it is in the Bible?” and to examine my budget and priorities in light of it, asking God what change he would like me to make in the use of my time, money, influence, and citizenship.New Wineskins

Mike Cope

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