The latest in our series on Justice and Theology from J Foster. Legend.
So there I was, strolling around a supermarket doing the weekly food shopping when I saw something on the shelf that I hadn’t noticed before and I stopped. As I looked at the tin of ‘Fairtrade’ baked beans on the shelf I could almost audibly hear the voices of the Old Testament prophets challenging me – ‘So, J, which brand is it to be?’ I often hear them when I walk through the aisles of competing products; from tea to cereal, loo roll to bananas. It’s like having Jeremiah or Isaiah wandering around with me.
You see, Isaiah is in no doubt whose side God is on when it comes to issues of economic oppression and turning a blind eye to poverty. The messianic figure he repeatedly describes has justice and bringing protection to the poor at the forefront of his character.
Jeremiah’s sharp words condemn Israel for their refusal to stand up for the weak and the marginalised urging them to defend the cause of those in need leaving God’s pointed question of “is that not what it means to know me?” hanging in the air (Jer. 22). The Prophets were clear, it is simply not possible to separate issues of justice from loving God.
When the prophets walked through the dusty streets of Jerusalem the food they ate was produced by the people they met. The clothes they wore were made by their neighbours’ families. I think it’s a lot harder to treat people badly when you have to look them in the eye or see them in the street. Yet the people the Prophets lived amongst managed to.
God spoke powerfully and sharply through those anointed men (and women) as they stood at the city gate, in the market squares and the Temple courts warning their community of what God thought of their lifestyles. The Law had taught them to look after those who had little or nothing, to treat them with dignity and ensure the vulnerable were not taken advantage of in the pursuit of wealth. To borrow the voice of Micah, they were to ‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with [their] God’. This wasn’t some grand project or something only those few super-spiritual elite could achieve, it was a calling to weave justice and fairness into the everyday life of each and every person who belonged to God’s people.
But they didn’t do it.
They ignored the voice of God and simply carried on getting richer and more comfortable; enjoying their surroundings believing that because their lives looked good it meant that God was pleased with them.
The call hasn’t changed but it is far easier to ignore the voice of the Prophets when we can’t see the tears of the poor or oppressed. We follow the same God as the Prophets and the call of our Father today is the same for each of us as it was then. If, as Jeremiah challenges us, we say we know God, then the way we live day in and day out is to look different to those around us.
Our everyday, mundane choices matter.
So, how do I select the food that goes into my shopping basket each week? Will I listen to the voices of the Prophets and buy less but spend more in order to contribute something to the unseen lives of those around the world that don’t get a lot of choices in life?
What do you think the Prophets would have to say to us when a factory collapses in a third world country killing hundreds of people who were making cheap clothes for our high street?
The Prophets spoke harsh and uncomfortable words to God’s people when they forgot that they were the ones who were to look out for the vulnerable and if we don’t feel uncomfortable when we read the Scriptures then I think we’ve missed something…
Thanks to incredible people who run amazing charities and organisations such as the Tearfund, Fairtrade Foundation, The One Foundation, Compassion and SO many others it has never been easier for each of us to join together and make choices that answer the call to truly love God.
After all, every little helps, it’s just not always my lifestyle that should benefit.
We’d love to hear any thoughts you have, so feel free to get in touch,