“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. –Luke 4:17-20 (ESV)
Visit the prisoners and bring them some happiness. Even if they are guilty; even if, in your eyes, they deserve whatever misery they have. Bring them joy.
G-d is always with the oppressed. Even if the oppressor is righteous and the oppressed is wicked, our sages tell us, G-d is with the oppressed.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“G-d with the Oppressed”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
He has been sent to proclaim liberty to the captives and to set free the oppressed. When we read these lines Jesus read, citing Isaiah 61:1,2 (see Septuagint) and Isaiah 58:6, we Christians think of ourselves, which I suppose is rather self-centered. We have been set free, if not from the world or our own human natures, at least from being slaves to the values of the world and the complete corruption of the human heart. It’s actually not that simple, since Christians often believe only they (we) can perform good while all of our secular counterparts can do only evil. Yet the just and the unjust can both feed the hungry, give to the poor, and shelter the homeless. Our freedom is to see that we do not serve only ourselves or only other human beings when we do what is good, but we serve God and acknowledge His Kingship over all the earth.
But we were not always free.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. –Romans 5:6-11 (ESV)
Please keep that in mind. Jesus didn’t die for you (or for me, or for anyone) because you were so cool, but because you were his enemy! I say that because many in the church continue to disdain “sinners” and hold themselves up higher than the human beings who are “unchurched” just because we Christians are “saved by grace.” And yet, many Christians don’t act like they were saved by grace, but rather, they act like they’ve been saved because they were loved by Jesus more than the unsaved (I know…the faulty “logic” confuses me, too).
Really, I’ve met Christians like this. It’s one of the reasons I left the church in which I became a Christian. Self-superiority among many believers is just rampant and it’s appalling.
If we could only look at ourselves as God sees us. What a horrible thing to wish upon anyone.
Oh, you think that you look really terrific to God? By His grace, perhaps, but He can see you, me, and everyone exactly as who we are and who we have been (and who we will be). He saw the good in us and the person He created us to be when we were still slaves to the sin in our hearts and the desire to serve only ourselves. Remember Rabbi Freeman’s advice? Visit the prisoners and bring them some happiness. Even if they are guilty; even if, in your eyes, they deserve whatever misery they have. Bring them joy.
Haven’t we all been guilty? Haven’t we all deserved whatever misery from which we suffered? Didn’t we cause Jesus to suffer and die because of our guilt? And yet God “visited” us when we were prisoners, guilty though we were and brought us the joy of the Good News. Now that we who were oppressed have been set free, and we who were poor in spirit have had the Gospel proclaimed to us, instead of condemning those who continue to be guilty, shouldn’t we proclaim freedom for them as well? And if you do and if you are rebuffed and ridiculed for your faith, should you then rebuff those who treat you poorly, or should you pity them? If you return bad for bad, are you not declaring that you are just as blind as those to whom you offer a lamp?
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)
Our righteous shepherd desires that we do kindness, mercy, and justice to those around us, as we have received it from him. Dr. Tsvi Sadan, in his soon to be released book The Concealed Light, shows us a different application of the name shepherd (ro’eh) for the Messiah (pp 222-23), particularly when we, who claim the name of Christ, treat his people Israel as if they are prisoners who will never be redeemed, and as if the Jews are no longer his own sheep.
It is Ezekiel who hears God speak of Messiah as the Shepherd (ro’eh): “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them – My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23). This Shepherd – “my servant David” – is seen by the Zohar as Shiloh, the “Faithful Shepherd,” who will deal decisively with Israel’s enemies (Zohar, Pinchas, 246b).
In his book “Em HaBanim Smechah,” Rabbi Issachar Shlomo Teichtal (murdered by the Nazis in 1944) had this to say about the religious leaders of the Jews of his day: “Who will accept responsibility for the innocent blood that has been spilled in our days? It seems to me that all the leaders who prevented the people of Israel from joining the builders [of the land of Israel] cannot cleanse their hands and say, ‘Our hands did not spill this blood!'” (21-22). Rabbi Teichtal wrote this book while hiding from the SS search parties for three years. The remarkable fact is that he cites from memory countless passages from Scripture and Jewish sources, some of which are aimed at explaining his bitter complaint about those Jewish leaders whose approach, “it is preferable to sit and do nothing,” discouraged Jews from immigrating to Israel, thus leaving them to die by the millions in hostile Europe.
In light of these sobering words, the Shepherd of Israel will do what generations of shepherds could not do; namely, he will gather the sheep from the nations to Israel. Then he “will compel them to do justice and righteousness and then he will become their shepherd, meaning that they will accept his reign and will learn from him until they willingly receive him as their shepherd” (Malbim to Ezekiel 34:23).
If this is true of Messiah, the Shepherd of Israel and his people the Jews, shouldn’t we, his Gentile disciples also “do justice and righteousness” to those in our midst and not reject the unsaved among us? And specifically, shouldn’t we support the in-gathering of the Jewish people to Israel from the nations and not disdain them or the mission of the Shepherd to restore the Jews to their land?
Learn to be at peace with others who are unlike you and be at peace with Israel, the Shepherd’s sheep, and the prisoner you will be freeing will be yourself.
This is the “morning meditation” that will be published on Purim (I’m writing this the day before), a celebration of freedom from certain death for the Jews. Certainly God has visited the “prisoner” and announced the good news of life to Israel, bringing great joy to His people. Let us rejoice with them on this day, and in anticipation of His bringing an even greater freedom to Israel and to the nations in the person of the Messiah.
“Peace is not the absence of affliction, but the presence of God.” -Anonymous
Chag Sameach Purim.