Sunday, March 7, 2010

Change Your Ways (part 2 of 2)

The oppression of foreigners in the land of Judah is such an interesting phenomenon, not only in that it demonstrated such a tremendous amount of forgetfulness on the part of God’s people, but also because we, as Christians, either think that this does not really apply to us , or because we tend to think of ourselves as foreigners---as strangers in a strange land. However, If we are renewed Israel, then we have to recognize that we are not the foreigners. We are not the strangers. We are the ones in the position to be potential oppressors. We are living in a world that began to be re-claimed two thousand years ago, serving as kings and priests to the most High God, through our union with Christ.

Therefore do we, as Christians, recognizing that we are living in a world in which God’s kingdom on earth has been inaugurated and where Jesus reigns as King over all of this creation that began to be renewed and re-made and set to rights with His resurrection, oppress foreigners who live in our land? It may seem like a strange question, because we are so accustomed to speaking and thinking in terms of being persecuted for faith or hated by the world. We have to remember that in Judah (and all Israel), foreigners in their land would have been those that were not members of God’s covenant people. Likewise, let us consider that before we were brought to the place of belief, through the faith gifted by the Holy Spirit through the power of the proclaimed Gospel of Jesus, we were foreigners in the midst of God’s kingdom on earth.

If we understand that, then we must consider how we find ourselves treating those that currently stand outside of God’s covenant that is marked by belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Ruler of all things? Do we oppress them? How do we oppress them? Are we not the ones that are oppressed? In a sense, yes, but in the end, we stand with and serve the One that is King of all, with all rulers subjected to Him. So rather than be the oppressed ones, we actually find ourselves, like Israel, in the place in which we can be the oppressor. So again, how can we oppress foreigners---those outside the covenant. Well, do we shun them? Do we think ourselves better than them? Do we isolate ourselves from them? Do we separate ourselves from who and what we speak of as “the world,” and by doing so, think that we are living holy and righteous lives that are pleasing to God? Do we merely shine as lights for each other, while leaving the “foreigners” groping about in an oppressive and chaotic darkness? Do we judge and condemn them for engaging in those things that we subjectively label as “sin,” and “preach” against “sin” rather than being the lights of God’s intention by preaching the message of the Gospel, and so find ourselves engaging in what it is that God finds far more heinous and deserving of His curse?

In addition, God says to stop oppressing “children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands” (7:6b). God’s people had an obligation to orphans and widows. Not caring for them was the same as oppressing them. In the midst of all of our worthwhile endeavors in ministry as the renewed Israel in Christ, that is, God’s re-constituted covenant people, how are we doing in this regard? Along with the directive concerning the oppression of foreigners, orphans, and widows, God says, “Stop killing innocent people in this land. Stop paying allegiance to other gods” (7:6c). God says that all of these things “will only bring about your ruin” (7:6d).

We are always quick to emphasize the idolatry of God’s people that brought judgment, but it comes last in this listing of offenses against their God that bring ruin and exile. Idolatry would naturally grow out of the oppressions here recounted and the killing of innocent people, because forsaking that which was God’s purpose for them (because they possessed a nature corrupted by Adam’s fall---as does each one of us), God’s people would be determined to find a god in whose image they could actually believe themselves to have been made, and who would sanction their oppression.

God’s message to His people is “If you stop doing these things, I will allow you to continue to live in this land which I gave to your ancestors as a lasting possession” (7:7). If we, as people under the covenant of belief in the Gospel (Jesus, the crucified and resurrected man from Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah and Lord of all creation) desire to have a continued place in God’s kingdom on earth---in the land that He has given to His image-bearers and wise stewards as a lasting possession---then this passage from Jeremiah should serve as a clarion call to the duties of our vocation. Have we a need to change our ways and to start doing what is right?

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