Justice For the Oppressed

by Rev. Kevin Daugherty

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm: Psalm 103:1-13
Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

I was excited to see today’s psalm in the Revised Common Lectionary. Psalm 103 has a history in my family. If you look at any of the Bibles belonging to my great-grandmother, Psalm 103 is marked off as one of her favorite passages. She wrote a note in a Bible that she gave to my father that she wanted this psalm read at her funeral. It was even written by her in the front my father’s old The Way Living Bible. It seems like Psalm 103 was one of those passages that she shared every chance that she could get.

Psalm 103 reveals a lot of powerful truths about the nature of God and the general narrative of the Bible. So, let’s unpack this psalm a bit:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

God is forgiving, healing, redeeming, loving, satisfying, and renewing. Those are a lot of attributes of God in just three short verses. I think these attributes truly capture the message that we see in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is through Christ’s conquest over sin and death that we truly see these divine attributes at work.

Even with these statements, the reality is that we still live in a fallen creation. There are many people who still suffer and lack. What we can rest assured in is the reality of the resurrection and second coming. The time will come when creation will be restored to it’s original relationship with God, and we will truly experience these attributes in their fullness.

The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.

He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.

“The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all that are oppressed.” The Lord is a God who fights for the downtrodden. He stands on the side of the poor and needy. It is a Biblical theme that can be traced back to Moses’ leadership in the Exodus, through all of the prophets, and to Christ and his apostles. I have previously posted an extensive list of Biblical quotations on this exact issue, which I suggest to everyone reading this. The Biblical story is one of triumph for the underdog.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, according to the Gospel of Luke, began his public ministry by preaching from this passage:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19, cf. Isaiah 61:1-2).

Righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed is at the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Far too often, we turn Christianity into a series of creeds and beliefs of intellectual assent. While these affirmations of faith are an important part of what it means to be a Christian, it is not the whole story. One of the great problems in the church are the ecumenical creeds. It is not that these creeds are false, but they were primarily written in response to Christological controversy. They say absolutely nothing about how we should act as Christians. They tell us nothing about the life and example of Jesus Christ. They jump straight from the virgin birth to the crucifixion. While believing the “right” things is part of Christian orthodoxy, following Jesus’ teachings really needs to be included in there somewhere.

Finally, we have these wonderful verses, which affirm the previous attributes of God:

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.

In my great-grandmother’s Bible, “plenteous in mercy” is underlined. The Lord is loving, merciful, and compassionate. We are his children, and we can turn to him for our needs. He can and does strengthen us during times of trial and tribulation. He forgives our sins and guides us by his grace. May we turn to the Lord for our needs, and may we follow his example. May be stand up for the oppressed and be gracious and merciful to all our brothers and sisters. 

Be merciful, O God, to all that are under affliction or distress; who labor under poverty or persecution; under bodily pains or diseases; or under temptations or troubles of mind; mercifully support and comfort them; lay no more on them than You will enable them to bear; reconcile them to all Your allotments; sanctify their troubles; prepare them for Your whole plan concerning them; and in Your own due time give them a happy deliverance out of their afflictions. Amen (1794 [Universalist] Book of Prayer).