Jesus & Justice For All #5: Deliverance of the Oppressed

Luke 6:1-9

While traveling on the Sabbath, Jesus and his students got hungry. They picked grain for lunch. The lawmakers said this was illegal: no grocery shopping on the Sabbath.

Also on the Sabbath, Jesus went to church and saw a man in need of healing. Knowing his critics were watching, Jesus healed the man and asked, “which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

Dominican-Republic-2008

Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, luke 19:45-47, John 2:12-22

Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem with palm branches and shouts of Hosanna and entered the temple. There he saw people exchanging foreign currencies so they could buy animals to offer in worship to God. He turned over the tables of the money exchangers, and of the venders selling animals too. He said God’s temple had been turned from a house of prayer into a cave for thieves.

Boy named Gabriel in the Dominican Republic born without ears

Deliverance from oppression…

Jesus didn’t live in a representative republic. The Jewish nation (even when under Roman rule) was a theocracy of sorts, governed in large part by a religious ruling class – church and state were in many ways one and the same. When legislation/religion resulted in the oppression of the poor and less powerful, Jesus obeyed the higher law/religion of love instead.

Though Sabbath laws stood in the way of filling a stomach or healing a hand, Jesus picked and healed.

When the powers-that-be cheated foreigners exchanging currency at the temple, Jesus turned the tables on them and demanded love for God and neighbor.

Girl foraging for food at dump in Dominican Republic

Nagas & Thraou

In the Old Testament, in passages like Isaiah 58, the word “oppressed” is a translation of the Hebrew word “nagas.” It means “touches” and is translated elsewhere as “strike”, “reach”, “bring down”, “crush”, “ruler.”

When Isaiah foretold times of prosperity for the nation of Israel, he wrote…

Instead of bronze I will bring you gold,
and silver in place of iron.
Instead of wood I will bring you bronze,
and iron in place of stones.
I will make peace your governor
and well-being your ruler (nagas).
-Isaiah 60:17

When Isaiah predicted the torture of Christ he wrote…

He was oppressed (nagas) and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
-Isaiah 53:7

So, in the Old Testament, “nagas” is the exercise of power or strength over another, whether that power is for peace or violence, prosperity or persecution. “Oppression” is negative “nagas.”

In the New Testament the word “oppressed” only appears once in the New International Version – in a passage we’ve already mentioned in this series…

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” – Luke 4:18

There, the Greek word “thraou” is translated “oppressed.” It means “to break into pieces, shatter.” The bible says again and again that God is close to the broken-hearted, but God is also overthrowing the systems that have held down and broken them.

Jesus delivers, and promises more deliverance is on the way, to those struck and shattered by the powers and systems at work against the disadvantaged.