I’m constantly amazed when reading the Bible that things I’ve read tons of times suddenly jump out as though I had never seen them before. I think that is especially true in reading from the Proverbs. Yesterday I was reading in Proverbs 14 when this verse caught my eye. “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31)
Now the point of this text is certainly not unique for Scripture. When Jesus pictured the Judgement in Matthew 25:31-46 he declared that those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick or imprisoned or took in strangers, and gave drink to the thirsty they were serving Him and when one failed to do those same things they failed to provide for the Lord. Another classic illustration of this same point is found in Acts 9 where Saul was persecuting the church. After holding the garnets for those who stoned Stephen to death he went into a mad rage against the Christians, taking both men and women from their homes and throwing them into prison. He wasn’t satisfied arresting those in Jerusalem where he was but asked for letters giving him permission to go to Damascus in Syria to arrest Christians there. But on the road, he was confronted with great light and knocked to the ground. Then a voice from heaven spoke to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? He asked who it was and the voice said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” He could well have responded, “No, I’m not persecuting you, but the ones who follow you.” But Jesus identified with his people. How we treat those who follow him is how we treat Jesus. How I treat those who are hurting is how I treat Jesus and how I deal with the poor and oppressed in the world is how we treat God, our maker.
That is the reason in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus pictured the priest and Levite saw the man who had been robbed, beaten and left for dead lying beside the road and they passed by on the other side, was such a powerful point. They were leaders in the religion of the Jews. They were teachers, preachers, elders, or deacons in the church if we brought it into our own time. But their religion had become academic and not nearly enough action to care for the oppressed. Certainly, there were risks in going to the injured man to care for him. But there are entirely different kinds of risks in our relationship with God and our final judgment from God when we say the right things but they don’t change our actions toward others.
I can imagine the people responding in these different situations by saying, “Oh no, I have all kinds of admiration and respect for God and for Jesus. I would never neglect them in any way.” But God doesn’t judge our faith and devotion to him only on what goes on on Sundays when we gather for worship. He looks just as closely at how we live and act each day in the world.
Jesus said, we would have the poor with us always and I know He is right. We have had numerous government programs in my life time that were intended to eliminate poverty and oppression in the world, or at least in this country. No doubt some have been helped by such efforts. But there seems to always be a fresh supply of those who are poor and oppressed in the world. I am for every kind of program that people can come up with that may help those in need. But I would suggest it isn’t programs that will make the greatest difference but people who determine to be loving, considerate and helpful to the hurting they either know or have some contact with in life. What if the one who is hurting looked like Jesus as we have seen the paintings of Jesus? How would you react to their hurts?
We will stop the oppression and show devotion to God by being those who care for those who are oppressed and hurting in our world every day. Remember James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Also, consider the golden rule that Jesus gave to do to others as we would want them to do to us. If we follow that rule for life it certainly changes us through andt through.