Standing with the Downtrodden (Psalm 10)
Reading: Psalm 10
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor…the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord…He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.” … Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted… to you the helpless commits himself…
The absence of the Lord is not often spoken of, but it is the persistent cry of the psalmist. Waiting on God to act. Pleading with him to end suffering, and particularly injustice. Why do the wicked and the greedy seem to prosper? Where is the Lord when the weak are oppressed?
For the onlooker, these questions don’t seem as pressing. But to the one who under the thumb of the oppressor, they are urgent.
When Jesus announced his ministry, he did so by quoting from Isaiah 61. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus stands on the side of the weak, poor, and downtrodden. He came to liberate the captives, to heal the sick, to help the helpless.
For the follower of Jesus, the questions of the welfare of the poor and oppressed must become urgent. We must plead with God as the psalmist did, crying out to him to act, entreating him to reveal himself as the just judge to those who because of their power and their wealth are accountable to no one else.
But in siding with the oppressed, we too risk becoming oppressed. Aligning against the powers and principalities means potentially becoming a target. To seek justice for the orphan and the widow may very well put us in harm’s way. But that, too, was true of Jesus. Because Jesus spoke up for those who were like sheep without a shepherd and because he challenged the established leadership of the day, he was falsely tried, falsely condemned, and executed. He so identified with the oppressed that he became one of them.
It’s more than just his identification with the oppressed that draws us to commit ourselves into his care. It is also the confidence that ultimately justice will be done. And we see that most clearly in the resurrection of Jesus. “As long as Jesus remained in a state of death, the righteous character of his work…was implicitly denied. Consequently, the eradication of death in his resurrection is nothing less than the removal of the verdict of condemnation and the effective affirmation of his righteousness” (Richard Gaffin).
Though Pilate carried out an unjust sentence of death against Jesus, our Lord was vindicated in his innocence. God, through the resurrection, corrected what was the greatest injustice that had ever occurred. In short, God judges justly. And because that’s true, he is the hope of the oppressed and those who stand with them.
And so Peter writes, “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:20-23).
Though he often feels absent (how absent must he have felt on Holy Saturday), the day of justice and reckoning will come. Let the helpless commit themselves to him who became helpless for their sake, and who was vindicated as they will be.
Father, for those who are oppressed, we seek your face. See their helpless hands. Hear their cries. Do not stand far off, but act in the face of oppression. Bring reprieve and create true peace. Let your gospel go out to transform hearts and create peace in our midst.
And come, Lord Jesus! Come!