Check out the other topics for this quarter here:
What is sin?
Overview of the Books of History
Conquering of Canaan
The Story of the Bible
Major Character: Joshua
Memory Verse: Joshua 1:7-9
Throughout both the Old and New Testament there is a special group of people that God spends a good amount of time providing laws and guidance about, which we call “the marginalized”.
In Zechariah 7 the scattered Jews living in Babylon called on Zechariah to ask God if they still need to take part in a fasting ritual that has been a part of their Jewish tradition. And God’s response is interesting. He tells them that he already answered this question long ago, when “Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous”, when things were good and the people of Israel were not captives and refugees. At that time God told his people that when they fast, they do it for themselves, when they mourn, they do it for themselves, and when they feast, it is not to honor God, it is to honor themselves. God advises that fasting is not the issue that they should be concerned about. What they should be concerned about is God’s desire for them to “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zech 7:9-10)
The widow, the orphan, the foreigner and the poor, those are the groups that make up “The Marginalized.” And in that passage God goes on to say that the Israelites failure to follow those words are what led to their captivity. That’s right, part of what led to the people of Israel failing to be God’s people is their proclivity to take advantage of the disadvantaged.
Protect the Needy
The Old Testament is filled with decrees from God and the prophets about making it clear that these groups are not to be taken advantage of:
In Jerimiah 22 the King of Judah is told to “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”
Psalm 146 proclaims that God “watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”
When God describes the atrocities the people of Jerusalem committed against him in Ezekiel, he declares that “they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.” (Eze 22:7)
The important thing to take away from this theme is that God knew that some people were going to be more vulnerable to being wronged: widows and orphans, who had no social standing or ability to make a living; foreigners, who also have no social standing or family connections in the promised land; and the poor, who could become desperate and helpless very easily. God knew that these people-groups would be in the Promised Land and he wanted his people to be a people who treat those groups with dignity and respect.
This is why in Jeremiah 7 God proclaimed to his broken, selfish, hard-hearted people, the following: “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.” To deal with each other justly and to protect the marginalized is all God called for his people to do to stay in the Promised Land they came so far to occupy.
Why are these groups more vulnerable to harm than others?
When God calls us to protect the marginalized, how would that look?
Can you think of someone you have spoken to or seen recently that would fall into that category?
The Marginalized in the New Testament
There are numerous examples of God’s heart for the marginalized displayed in the New Testament. Jesus’s brother James says in the first chapter of his epistle that pure and faultless religion is not being polluted by the world and caring for widows and orphans in distress. Even when the church was first started in Acts, one of the most important steps they took was in providing care for the widows who lived in their area. In the book of Galatians Paul notes when he first started his ministry he was heavily encouraged by the Apostles to “remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” On more than one occasion outside of the Gospels, Jesus is quoted as saying “It is better to give than to receive.” And who else would Christians be inspired to give to, if not the marginalized and needy they encounter every day?
Jesus and the Marginalized
Of course, if a theme such as providing justice for the marginalized runs so strong through the Old and New Testament, then Jesus was going to have a good amount of things to say about it.
Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.
Matt 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Mark 9:35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.”
One of the best ways Jesus spoke about being a servant to the Marginalized was in Luke 10, when he told the story about the Good Samaritan. The story itself is pretty straightforward, a man is attacked by robbers and left on the road in a heap. He is then ignored by a Levite and then a priest, both of whom were supposed to be pious spiritual leaders. Finally, a Samaritan comes down the road and picks the man up, takes him into town and provides care, even paying for a room and his healthcare. This story is one about compassion and mercy on top of dealing with prejudice and the social norms between Jews and Samaritans of the day.
Just as important to the story though, is what is happening around Jesus when the story is told. Jesus is asked by an expert of the law “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus quotes Deuteronomy and Leviticus and says you must love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
Luke then writes that in order to “justify himself” the man asks Jesus “who is my neighbor.” It appears that the man wanted a thorough, technical, intellectual answer to his first question. And then when Jesus answers the expert with essentially something he has known since he was a boy, the man again tried to fish for a more thorough, theological answer. Whatever his intentions were, I am not sure, but essentially he was asking “When God told me to love my neighbor, who was he talking about?” He was looking for a list, like a cheat sheet, which at the top says “take care of these particular people and eternal life is as good as yours.”
Jesus though does not answer that question.
After he tells the story Jesus asks the expert which of the three men between the Levite, the priest and the Samaritan were a neighbor to the robbery victim? The expert replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus did not give him a list. He gave him a calling. To love our neighbor as ourselves is not a command to only help the people who live on the right and left of our house. It is a call to insert ourselves into the lives of the people we come in contact with. To go from being strangers or acquaintances to neighbors. And once we make ourselves neighbors to them, we love them, just as God loved us.
How would it look like to make someone in your life change from an acquaintance to a neighbor?
Why do you think the expert of the law called what the Samaritan did “showing mercy”?
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[e] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” 28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Do you think this verse means we should give all our stuff away?
Verse 29 and 30 says that we will get back even more than we give when we do it for God. What would us getting it back look like?
What does it mean to make ourselves last?
What would happen if we did that more often?