Friday, October 31, 2008

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Part 5

Luke 4:14-21

14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."[e]

20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

It’s always been clear that there is a lot of injustice in this world. What has not always been so clear is how we might fix it.

Rich Christians has made me think more about the injustice that happens in the world. I am more aware of my choices and how some of them – especially my choices as a consumer – contribute to the amount of injustice present.

Do you know where your clothes come from? Have you ever paid attention to that detail? I think I’ve always looked, but it’s never really made a difference in my life until now. Clothing is a good example of a place where numerous injustices happens. Sweatshops employ people and pay only a few dollars a day. The workers labor long hours. Some sweatshops force their employees to live there. They get few work breaks. We pay a lot of money for clothing in this country, but very little of the profits are going to workers who make our clothes.

The garment industry isn’t the only place where people are treated unfairly, but when we spend money, we often support many cases of injustice and abuse. As followers of Christ, we are called to do justice and love mercy. Sider says, “God wills justice for the poor, not occasional charity. And justice means things like the Jubilee and the Sabbatical remission of debts. It means economic structures that guarantee all people access to the productive resources needed to earn a decent living” (Sider 100).

This “occasional charity” thing has really made an impact on me. Is what I’m doing right now just occasional charity? How do I, how do we as a nation, contribute to true justice – or not?

It seems like such a big thing, the task of righting social structures. It’s bigger than you and me combined; in fact, it’s bigger than a lot of groups and nations, but it’s something we should aspire to.

The Founding Fathers of America, in deciding how the States would be represented in the House of Representatives, said in our Constitution, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Africans and African Americans were only counted as three-fifths of a person in 1791, and they weren’t counted as free people. Slavery was an institution that became part of our nation before we were even a nation. Yet there were men who wanted to see slavery abolished at that early time in America’s history:

“In 1830, John Quincy Adams was elected to Congress as the representative of the 12th District in Massachusetts. He was outspoken about nationalism and abolition of slavery. He attempted to introduce amendments to the Constitution in 1839 which would prevent any person born in the U.S. from being born a slave. He additionally became involved as a proponent for the Amistad Africans in writings of late 1839 forward. He eventually joined the team defending the Africans and helped win their freedom in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.” (

On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln, who was in favor of abolishing slavery in the United States, issued the Emancipation Proclamation:

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”

On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified and legally abolished the practice of slavery in the US:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

On February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified and gave all men the right to vote:

1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Though our country gave African Americans freedom and the right to vote, racism still existed in this country. We coined the phrase “Separate, but equal” and had to use military force to allow desegregation. But on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Junior, spoke these words at the Lincoln Memorial:

But one hundred years later [after the Emancipation Proclamation], the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

King’s words prompted the Civil Rights Act in 1964. And still this country struggled with racism. Since then, the struggle against racism hasn’t gotten better; we have legally freed people who were in bondage, but we still keep many of them in chains because of our social policies.

Here is the point to this history lesson though (and thanks for indulging me): It’s a process. God asks us to contribute to the process of justice. We may never see the end results, but we are expected to make the changes we can. In 1830, John Quincy Adams supported abolition, and probably dreamed of the day when all people in America would be free. And though he worked to see it happen, he died before it did. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln freed those in bondage, but I doubt he thought that they’d be equal because of it. Martin Luther King, Junior died before he saw some of the extraordinary changes we’ve made here.

In Luke 4:14-21, Jesus announced that He was the fulfillment of prophecy and the One to set the captives free. While He only quoted part of Isaiah 61, I would argue that he fulfilled all of the words of the ancient prophet, who wrote:

Isaiah 61
The Year of the LORD's Favor
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,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

5 Aliens will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.

6 And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.

7 Instead of their shame
my people will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
they will rejoice in their inheritance;
and so they will inherit a double portion in their land,
and everlasting joy will be theirs.

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.

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the LORD has blessed."

10 I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise
spring up before all nations.

The last verse says that the Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up like the soil makes a sprout come up and the garden causes the seed to grow. Seeds don't grow overnight, and righteousness is a process. Out of the process, we must begin the process of justice for all of God's children, not matter the color or culture - and even at the expense of our own comfort.

1 comment:

Eric Hadley-Ives said...

I like how you trace the events in the history leading toward equality of people in America, and then point out that people who participated in that process didn't live to see the final victory. That's very true, and although I've thought of this idea before, I think your post helped make it very concrete and real for me, and it seemed even more profound that way.