I always assumed that value and care for the poor and the oppressed, the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, were new and radical concepts brought about by Jesus. How wrong I was! They are in fact deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. God has cared deeply for the disenfranchised since the beginning of time.
Leviticus 25:35-38 (the book I usually write off as obsolete) says:
“If any of your own people become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that your poor neighbors may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit.”
There are provisions within the Levitical code that protect those who are disenfranchised. I firmly believe that God becomes very angry when people are taken advantage of, going so far as to call it sin!
“Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is an Israelite or is a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. (Deut 24:14-16)
Everything from respecting the Sabbath (slaves and foreigners in the Israelite home were to have the same benefit of rest), to the year of Jubilee where all debts were cancelled and slaves set free, ensure that God’s people experience justice and freedom.
I think of God’s prophecy over Abraham – that he would be blessed to be a blessing to the nations, that all people may know the True God. We are set free by the New Covenant that Jesus established – A covenant that bears in mind God’s heart for the poor and the oppressed and asks us to go even a step further – to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. And that is beautiful.