To be Christ-like is to Serve the Poor and Oppressed
Does your Gospel witness lack power? It could be because it’s missing a critical element — social justice. As someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. If we just tell people God loves them but don’t live out God’s love for people, then our Gospel becomes a weak, wordy message that lacks punch.
Jesus packed a punch. In Luke 4: 16 – 19 we read that Jesus returned to his hometown as a guest Rabbi in his Synagogue. While there, He was handed the Scripture in which He read from Isaiah 61 and claimed He is the fulfillment of this Scripture. This is what he read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
It’s interesting to note that the above Scripture describes Jesus’ mission as words and actions that proclaimed favour for a unique population group — the poor. This is important, as many of the people who heard Jesus speak were poor. You see, the blind in Jesus day were poor. All throughout the Gospels you read about the blind begging for money. When Jesus says He is sent to proclaim freedom for prisoners, He is pointing to the poor who were in debtors’ prison for being unable to pay taxes. Israel was an agrarian culture, and the way people survived was through having land to grow and sell crops, cattle, etc. In Jesus’ day, both the corrupted religion with its Temple tax and the conquering Romans with their tax forced many Israelites to sell their land to rich aristocrats in order to have the money to pay these high taxes. The rich landowners would hire the previous owners to work their land at low pay. Eventually, these workers could no longer afford the yearly taxes, and they would be forced to sell their children off as slaves to work the land. In time, when the taxes swallowed up the money they made for selling their children, they would be thrown into debtors’ prison for not paying taxes. So, the prisoners in this passage are the poor. The oppressed that were to be set free are all those who suffer under this horrible unjust system. Yet, Jesus is saying that He has come to proclaim God’s favour for them all — the poor and oppressed.
The Bible teaches us that there was a day called the “year of the Lord’s favour” known as the “year of Jubilee”. We read about this in Leviticus 25 that every 50th year was to be a “year of Jubilee” (the “year of the Lord’s favour”) in which those who lost their land were to get it back, and those in debtors’ prison were to have their debts forgiven. God made this law because He knew that unjust systems would take place in the promised land due to the state of sinful man, so He devised a plan that would counter injustice — every 50 years all land must be given back to its rightful owners, and all debts were to be forgiven. What a great law for the poor! It’s restorative justice, and this is what Jesus says His mission is all about — justice in the land.
I was preaching on this recently at a First Nations church. When I told them about the Jubilee year and how the owners of the land were to get it back, they rejoiced and danced in the aisles! It was very moving to see how people, who have experienced the injustice of their land being stolen away from them, moved to tears knowing that God is for them, because God is a God of justice. And, so too, must we be people of justice.
Jesus identifies Himself as the fulfilment of this Isaiah passage. It is what Jesus is all about. And I am convicted by this truth. If Jesus is all about the poor and oppressed, then shouldn’t we? If we are to be “Christ — like” and if we are to follow Jesus, then shouldn’t we also be all about the poor and oppressed?