Luke 20:45-47 (CEV)
45 While everyone was listening to Jesus, he said to his disciples:
46 Guard against the teachers of the Law of Moses! They love to walk around in long robes, and they like to be greeted in the market. They want the front seats in the meeting places and the best seats at banquets. 47 But they cheat widows out of their homes and then pray long prayers just to show off. These teachers will be punished most of all.
On Widows, Justice and Hope
The first time I started struggling with my faith was after my son and my pastor both died within the space of a few months. It was a lot of loss and significant changes in the direction of our church after the pastor’s death just exacerbated my discomfort.
I was upset about the way that injustices around us as a church were being ignored – even when there were people in the congregation who wanted to do something about them.
I was upset about the way that certain groups in our community were being left out on the basis of their skin colour and finances and education and marital status.
I was upset about the way that the leadership spoke down to those outside of the ‘inner circle’, and the way they seemed unwilling to make time to listen to people’s hurts and hearts, despite being called ‘pastors’.
In desperation I decided to read through the Old Testament prophetic books. Starting with Isaiah, I read through to the end of Malachi over a short period of time.
As I did, I met a God of justice – a God who cared for the widow and the orphan and the foreigner and the most destitute of society – and a God who deeply desired a humble worshipping community. Here are just a few examples from Isaiah:
Stop doing wrong and learn to live right.
See that justice is done.
Defend widows and orphans and help those in need. ~ Isaiah 1:16b-17
You people are in for trouble! You have made cruel and unfair laws that let you cheat the poor and needy and rob widows and orphans. ~ Isaiah 10:1-2
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. ~ Isaiah 13:11b
Over and over throughout these books, the prophets talk about a God who cares about justice and mercy and a worship that flows out of humility.
These are the words that began to shape a deeper faith inside of me – one that has continued to be strong enough to weather the storms of life.
And this is the tradition that Jesus is referencing in what he is saying to the disciples. On the heels of his question about what kind of a Messiah he will be, Jesus is placing himself in line with this same Old Testament prophetic tradition.
He is taking the side of the poor.
He is lifting up the needy.
He is choosing the refugee and the foreigner and the weak and the youngest and the oldest and those whose identities place them at the edges of society and saying, “These are my people.”
2017 was a difficult year for a lot of people. It was especially difficult for those whose realities left them vulnerable to attack by powerful groups. But it was also difficult for a lot of folks who had previously thought that they wanted to call themselves ‘Christian’ and have now been left with a faith that is reeling and shifting in the face of current events.
So today I offer you the same hope that I found years ago, and the hope that has sustained me over the past year.
It’s the hope that Jesus comes in this stream of prophetic justice, calling us to join in with this millennia-old tradition of caring for the most vulnerable around us.
The hope that comes from offering mercy and grace to those around us.
And the hope of choosing to set aside the protection of our arrogance and live life from a place of vulnerable humility.
It’s the hope that allows me to still gratefully call myself a Jesus follower.
How about you?
- What has been upsetting and unsettling you recently in your faith?
- What current events have left you feeling vulnerable?
- I’d encourage you to take some time to read through the book of Isaiah this week – ask God to show you his heart for justice and mercy and humility.
- Take some time to record your thoughts about these verses.
- How might it change your perspective of faith to root yourself in a God who thinks like this.