All of you who revere the Lord—praise him!
All of you who are Jacob’s descendants—honor him!
All of you who are all Israel’s offspring—stand in awe of him!
Because he didn’t despise or detest
the suffering of the one who suffered—
he didn’t hide his face from me.
No, he listened when I cried out to him for help.
I offer praise in the great congregation
because of you;
I will fulfill my promises
in the presence of those who honor God.
Let all those who are suffering eat and be full!
Let all who seek the Lord praise him!
I pray your hearts live forever!
Every part of the earth
will remember and come back to the Lord;
every family among all the nations will worship you.
Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord,
he rules all nations.
Indeed, all the earth’s powerful
will worship him;
all who are descending to the dust
will kneel before him;
my being also lives for him.
Future descendants will serve him;
generations to come will be told about my Lord.
They will proclaim God’s righteousness
to those not yet born,
telling them what God has done.
Psalm 22:23-31 (CEB)
One of the greatest things about the Bible is that, at its core, it’s all about the little people. Now, I don’t necessarily mean our friends who find themselves in a lower height percentile. I’m talking about people who find themselves outside the circles of power in culture and society. People we might consider minorities, outcasts, exiles and the ostracized
If you need further proof, just head towards the front of your Bible. Once there you’ll realize that the foundational story is about a group of slaves. These are people pushed to the outskirts of society, people despised and detested, people who suffer under the heavy foot of oppression and who have no voice.
And yet…God hears their cry. God acknowledges their voice. God calls them “my people.”
It’s not so much the great and powerful God concerns himself with. Sure, there are great kings in the pages of Scripture. But, often their stories are cautionary tales of the allure of power. They all, in some form or another, turned their backs on God for their own purposes.
And, in doing so, turned their backs on the marginalized.
God warns the Israelites in Exodus 22:21-23, “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.” It’s comforting to know that God hears your cry when you are the oppressed and mistreated. However, it’s just as easy to overlook the oppressed and mistreated when you feel safe, secure and strong. This will become the greatest rebuke God levels against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah through the prophets.
No wonder they are rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek!
To be sure, their evil deeds exceed all limits, and yet they prosper.
They are indifferent to the plight of the orphan, reluctant to defend the rights of the poor.
Shouldn’t I punish such acts? Declares the Lord.
Shouldn’t I repay that nation for its deeds?
Jeremiah 5:27-29 (CEB)
Lent is a time when we have the opportunity to identify with and listen closely for the cry of the oppressed. We are called to enter the wilderness, to fast, to feel the pain of hunger and of want. Honestly, most of us in Western society (especially those of us who are white and male like myself) are RARELY if ever marginalized and oppressed. We are blessed beyond our comprehension and rarely feel the sting of injustice. Maybe Lent is a time for us to try to tune our ears to hear the cries of the oppressed. Rather than walling ourselves off from, ignoring, or instructing those who find themselves at the bottom of society we should take the time to hear their stories.
One time St. Francis of Assisi was in Rome for a pilgrimage, he noticed all the poor begging outside the gates of St. Peter’s. He did not just walk by, he did not just drop a few coins, he did not call the authorities to clear them out and he did not hand them information on how to find meaningful work.
He immediately sold everything he had and sat down to beg with them outside the great basilica. St. Francis heard their cries, he heard their stories and they became his people.
Those who have ears, let them hear.
God hears the cries of the oppressed, will you?