The biblical prophets echo a call to social justice. Part of the prophetic role in calling the Jewish people back to covenant faithfulness includes a clear condemnation of injustice in all its forms. According to the biblical prophet Isaiah, G-d requires action to accompany our faith:
“Here is the sort of fast that I want –
releasing those unjustly bound,
untying the thongs of the yoke,
letting the oppressed go free,
breaking every yoke,
sharing your food with the hungry,
taking the homeless poor into your house,
clothing the naked when you see them,
fulfilling your duty to your kinsman!” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
According to Isaiah, a great reward accompanies those who take action to free the oppressed. The theme of social justice is so central to the theology of the biblical prophets that it is even described as a central component of Messianic redemption. Isaiah 61 is attributed with being a Messianic passage, and is believed to describe a proclamation of Messiah:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,
because HaShem has anointed me to announce good news to the poor.
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted;
to proclaim freedom to the captives,
to let out into the light those bound in the dark;
to proclaim the year of the favor of HaShem.” (Isaiah 61:1-2a)
In fact, we see this fulfilled in Luke 4:16-22 where Yeshua stands up to read the Haftarah in the synagogue in Nazareth. After reading these exact words from Isaiah 61, Yeshua closed the scroll, returned it to the Gabbai, and stated, “Today, as you heard it read, this passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled.” In this passage Yeshua declared himself to be that messianic figure. Furthermore, Yeshua saw his role as the “mevaser” – the bearer of not only a message of hope, but of actual deliverance from physical oppression.
We often think of the “good news” as simply referring to the spreading of the Gospel message, or the “captives” mentioned as those in the world who are ‘lost’ and need to know the message of Yeshua. This is not entirely wrong. But over-spiritualizing the text loses its practical message – an idea central to biblical theology – that Messiah has come to bring about justice for the oppressed and actual freedom for those who are bound. According to the prophets, encompassed within the “good news” is a message of social justice. They must go together – concern for both the physical and spiritual well-being of others. And they are equally important!
Tomorrow, in our final segment of this series to kick-off the New Year, we’ll explore the concept of justice as holiness in the Apostolic Writings …
*This series is an expansion of an article I recently wrote for the UMJC Twenties newsletter, which can be read HERE.