Thursday, 18 April 2013

Justice – an essential issue?

The Church, in all its human frailty, has done some pretty rubbish things over the ages. I don't need to give you a list, I'm sure you have your own, but for me one of the prime examples of where the church has got it so right in some instances and oh so horribly wrong in others is the issue of justice for the poor.

I first learnt about this issue as a new Christian, about a year into going to Church for the first time, at the start of my gap year programme with Tearfund. Passage by passage our leader opened up the bible and pointed out passages where God entreats his people to care for the orphan and the widow.

I sat there dumb struck, at a complete loss as to why no one had spoken to me in Church about this fundamental issue before. It is said that if you cut out all the passages about justice for the poor from the Bible it literally falls apart. I saw that for myself that day and realised that my faith would fall apart without it too.

One of my set texts in my degree course is some large chunks from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The prophets scream and yell this message from the roof tops. Isaiah, a prophet from around the 8th century BC (now doesn't THAT blow your mind!) spends 39 chapters pleading with the people of Israel to turn from oppression of the poor towards justice. That is Gods complaint before them, you have no compassion, you do not care for the oppressed, in fact you do the oppressing, and I cannot stand to see it any more.

'Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean, remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.' (Isaiah 1:16)

When I think of our situation today, I shudder. I know how complicit I am in the oppression of others. I know how little I love others as I love myself. How often do I plead the case of the widow or the orphan? As much as I speak up for my own needs? The judgement in Isaiah rings out through the ages.

But fundamentally what Isaiah and the countless other passages reveal to me is the nature of God and that gives me the most intense joy and tremendous fear. His standards are not our standards. His cry is for justice and peace. His Kingdom is upside down and topsy turvy, populated by the humble and the childlike. He is not interested in status, he rejoices over the weak. When we stand up for the poor, when we cry our for justice, the Bible tells us that we stand side by side with God. He calls for it page after page through voice after voice.

I feel challenged. Challenged and ready again to hear just how fundamental this issue is to the heart of God and just how fundamental it is to being a person who claims to follow Jesus, who spent his whole live with the outcast and had compassion on the suffering and the weak. So what do you think? Should justice for the poor move up the agenda in our churches?

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