Jesus from Nazareth had a
to all of those who are oppressed.
Today many give lip service to freeing the
oppressed, but our world is absolutely full of subjugated peoples. And with
every passing day, the freedom of more people seems to be oppressively tore
away. What did Jesus say about social injustice? Did he champion the
oppressed in his teaching and by his actions?
Jesus and Other Races
Every nation and generation has its own racial prejudices. The Jews of Christ's era looked down upon a racial-religious group called the Samaritans. Long before the time of Jesus, the Assyrians transported into Samaria (the region north of Jerusalem), conquered peoples from other lands. These foreigners intermarried with Jews of the area and developed a religion based on part of the Old Testament. The orthodox Hebrews had an intense hatred for these racial and religious "half-breeds" and even considered their food unclean. (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1969, pp. 746-747).
Although the province of Samaria sat directly between Jerusalem and Galilee, most Jews would avoid the area in their travels. In an encounter that is recorded in John 4, Jesus and his disciples were on their way north to Galilee, but instead of avoiding Samaria, they walked directly through the region. At noon, Jesus stopped to rest at a well while the disciples went into the local city to buy food.
A woman came to draw water from the well, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."
Surprised that a Jew would talk to her, unless his motives were questionable, she asked, "How is it you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink, since I'm a Samaritan?"
"If you only knew what a wonderful gift God has for you, and who I am, you would ask me for some living water!" He ignored her racial question and offered her salvation.
After talking for several minutes, the woman said, "I know the Messiah is coming and when he does, he will explain everything to us."
"I am the Messiah!" He told her. Realizing whom she was talking to, the woman left her water pot, ran back to the city, and announced to everyone that the Messiah had come. The Samaritans then rushed out and begged him to stay in their city. And he agreed. (John 4:1-42).
Not only was Jesus willing to associate with Samaritans, he offered them eternal life and revealed his identity as the Messiah, which is something he would not do later for the self-righteous Pharisees. His friendship toward these social outcasts certainly did not add any stature to his reputation in the orthodox religious community.
Later, in Capernaum, some elders of the Jews came to Jesus and asked him to heal the slave boy of a Roman centurion.
"He deserves to have this done for him" they said. "He loves our nation and built us our synagogue."
"I will go and heal his servant," said the Lord. But while the Master, the disciples, and the elders were on their way, the centurion's servants met them on the road.
"Don't trouble yourself, Master," they said. "Our lord sent us to give you this message: 'I am not worthy to have you come under my roof—and that's why I haven't come to you myself. Instead, say the word and my servant will be healed. For I, too, am a man to whom authority is given. I have soldiers under me, and I tell one to go and he goes. I tell another to come and he comes.'"
Jesus marveled at these words. He turned to those following him and remarked, "I have not found anyone in Israel with such extraordinary faith!"
To the servants he said, "Go and tell your master, 'It will be as you have believed.'" And at that exact moment the servant was healed. (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10).
The centurion received his authority and power ultimately from the emperor himself. When the emperor wanted something done, he sent those under his authority. This Roman reasoned that Jesus' power over sickness came from God the Father and that Jesus did not have to come himself in order to heal. Because the Lord had authority over disease, his mere command was sufficient to heal the boy. Even though the Romans were oppressing Israel, the Teacher was willing to reach out to this Gentile and heal his servant.
Jesus cut through established prejudice. Repentant people would be liberated from their sin, no matter what their race, color, or previous religious creed. His salvation was for everyone.
Jesus and Oppressed Women
It is important to understand the customs of the world during the time of Christ. The ancient world was a man's world. The prominence a woman attained was achieved only by the force of her character or her beauty. Typically, women were to be seen, not heard, and many men considered them to be nothing more than property.
For centuries in Arab lands, a husband could divorce his wife by a spoken word. The divorced wife was entitled to only what she was wearing. For this reason, most women wore expensive jewels and valuable coins in their hair.
The Jewish law during the first century was one step better than the local customs of the day. It required a husband to give his wife a bill of divorcement, providing her some time and protection. But women were not allowed to divorce their husbands, and a man could end a relationship after finding the slightest indecency in his wife. (Fred H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953, p. 125).
Jesus said, "It is written, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of dismissal'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery." (Matthew 5:31-32).
The teacher was saying, "Stop treating your wife like a piece of property. Don't divorce her without just cause; treat her with respect."
But then he went a step further. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' but I say to you, that everyone who looks at a woman and lusts for her has already committed adultery in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus was saying, in effect, that God is concerned about a man's thought-life, not just his actions.
In Israel a woman found guilty of adultery was stoned to death. A man guilty of unfaithfulness was considered a criminal only because he had invaded the rights of another man. (Op. cit., Wight, p. 125). But Jesus declared that a man was guilty before God just with impure thoughts.
One day the teacher was in the Temple when the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.
"Teacher," they said, this woman has been caught in adultery—in the very act. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women; what do you say?"
Adultery takes two, but they brought only the woman. No outraged purity here; they had no concern for this woman. Her situation was just a chance to trap the prophet. If he offered her an acquittal, they would condemn him from the law. If Jesus condemned her, he would lose face before the people. In subjecting this terror-stricken woman who was unsure if she would instantly be put to death, they were revealing their cold, pitiless hearts.
Jesus did not respond to their question; instead, he bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. Irritated by his silence, they pressed him for an answer.
Standing, he said, "He who is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Then he stooped and again wrote on the ground. (John 8:1-7).
In one sentence he transferred the problem from law to conscience. By not obeying the law in the first place, they had proven they did not believe in it. They, too, were guilty. No one could throw a stone.
We'll never know what Christ wrote on the ground. But while the men watched him, one by one, from the oldest to the youngest, they all faded away into the crowd. Finally only the woman remained.
The prophet then looked up at the woman and said, "Where are all of your accusers? Does anyone condemn you?"
"No one does, Lord," she answered.
"Neither do I condemn you. Go home; but from now on, don't do it any more." (John 8:8-11).
Jesus loved were others hated. He forgave where others condemned. While he did not approve of immorality, rather, he revealed there was forgiveness for such sins.
The Master liberated that woman from her oppressors—from those who would condemn out of impure motives. He did not use the situation to give a lecture on chastity, nor did he embarrass her further. He merely projected his own purity for her.
Jesus was sympathetic to women. He never treated them as objects or in any way inferior to men. He was involved with them and their problems. Several women actually traveled with the Master and his male disciples. Apparently, they also provided funds to support his public ministry. Even prostitutes came to him for help and forgiveness. We have few recorded details, but we can be certain his behavior caused tongues to wag.
Jesus and the Poor
In public, the teacher once read a passage out of the Book of Isaiah which he then applied to himself: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:17-19; Isaiah 61:1-2).
Jesus' heart went out to those with physical needs; he felt called to those who were held captive by poverty. He said, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied." (Luke 6:20-21).
One day he was sitting with his disciples in a Temple courtyard called the treasury. The Master was observing people as they placed their gifts into the offering chest, and while he watched, a poor widow put in two tiny copper coins, amount to less than a cent.
Jesus pointed the woman out to his disciples and said, "That poor widow has put more into the treasury than all these other people. For they gave out of their abundance, but she gave out of her poverty everything she had." (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).
True giving comes from the heart. What we give, he said, is not as important as how we give. The poor are blessed when they give because it is such a great sacrifice.
To those who have money, the teacher said, "Give to him who asks of you." (Matthew 5:42). "Give and it will be given to you; it will be returned to you in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, and will pour into your lap. for whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return." (Luke 6:38).
In his instruction on prayer, Jesus told the poor they should pray for the necessities of life. "Your Father knows what you need, before you ask him." (Matthew 6:8). So ask him to "give you bread for the coming day." (Matthew 6:11). "If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11). The Master had been born into a poor family and he cared about the poor. He revealed that God will provide help to his children if they will but ask him.
The greatest oppression is on the moral level. The greatest oppressor is man himself. Jesus realized it isn't what a man puts into his mouth that corrupts him, but what is already in his heart. He taught that all men need new hearts in order to be free from racism, bigotry, and sexism. No man is capable of handling his own problems without help. And Jesus stated that he is more than willing to help.
Ultimately the oppression which faces us is our own self-will. No matter how prejudiced the crowd, no matter how domineering the husband, no matter how oppressive the government, it is man's own inner rebellion that makes life miserable.
Jesus came to free the oppressed, to liberate the downtrodden, and he was not afraid to get his hands dirty in the process. He gave of himself to those who needed help most—the poor, prostitutes, tax-collectors, lepers, the racially oppressed. His compassion was as big as their need. He reached out to all oppressed individuals struggling with the burdens of life.
"Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. . . For my yoke is easy and my load is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus came to free you. But his suffering on the cross is in vain for you if you do not respond personally to him. If you haven't already done so, I invite you to let him come and dwell inside your heart and fill you up with his Holy Spirit. If you would like to know more on what to do, check out How to Become a Christian, and also How to Repent of Your Sins.
Next we'll look at why Jesus is the World's Greatest Liberator.