“This is what the Lord says: 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.” -Jeremiah 22:3
This is but one of many passages in the Old Testament where we find God giving his people the same clear commandment: to show justice and mercy to the most vulnerable people living among them. Perhaps this directive was repeated so frequently because in ancient Israel immigrants and the poor were often treated as they are here today, with shame, fear, and contempt. The problem is that reaching out to people in these circumstances inevitably costs something of ourselves. It definitely costs us time and convenience, but it might even cost us our reputation or our safety.
But when we look at the life of Jesus, it is clear that he had little concern for what the ruling and religious powers of his day thought about his ministry to society’s downcast. In Luke 6:20 Jesus preaches to the gathered crowd, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” Jesus is saying that God’s blessing and authority rests among those considered to be the lowest of his people, a challenging thought to those in positions of privilege. And doesn’t this mean that if we want to experience the blessing and presence of God, to participate in his Kingdom, that we should be drawing close to those with whom that blessing resides?
Sandra McCracken’s song “All Ye Refugees” is a message of radical inclusivity toward the outcast. It is a word of welcome to the alien, an invitation to “join the great procession” and journey toward our eternal home with all of creation. But it is also an invitation for all of us to join our God in extending his welcome to the ends of the earth, even into its darkest places. The second verse starts: “Oh refugee, I did not cast you out / In death and broken ground salvation springs.” Despite all evidence to the contrary, we often equate God’s blessing or salvation to our own earthly success and triumph. In this verse, Sandra McCracken reminds us that it is out of chaos that God brings order, and into darkness that he shines his light. This is the message of hope that we have to bring into the places of despair.
Caring for the poor and refugee may seem like a political issue, and it is commonly assumed that the church shouldn’t be involved in politics. To a degree this is true, and it would be a grave mistake to associate Jesus with a particular partisan ideology. But when issues of justice and mercy become politicized then Jesus stands at the center of our politics, and it becomes the church’s obligation to get involved. I am thankful and proud to be part of a church like Union that consistently engages with these issues through our work with Compass House, International Justice Mission, and our homeless women’s shelter among others. It is important that the songs we sing continue to draw us back toward this mission and remind us of the eschatological scope of God’s salvation, that reaches from the highest castle to the lowest gutter, and seeks to draw all of his people to himself.