Inspire Justice – It’s Our Calling

homeless waliking in a mystic place

First published March 29, 2016   Republished April 4, 2016 for technical reasons.

JEREMIAH 22:15+16…..Did not your father (King Josiah) eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. “He pled the cause of the oppressed (aniy) and the dependent (ebyown); Then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?” Declares the LORD.

I had the good fortune to attend the Inspire Justice Conference in Halifax last October. What a great name for a conference and what a great job description for each of us. It drew me back to the story of King Josiah who may have been Israel’s foremost reformer King. He was the King who declared his loyalty to “ancient scriptures” (2Ki 23:2), called his people back to their historic worship and feasts, and then called the nation to justice and righteousness.

The text contains much more but I am drawn to the juxtaposition of Josiah’s capacity to enjoy the good things that had come his way, and his commitment to plead the cause of the poor.

Josiah may have been Israel’s greatest reformer and King but he was no John the Baptist, living off raw honey and locusts. Josiah was known to banquet or feast. Today we might say; “Wasn’t your dad a party animal?” The language in the Jer. 22:15 may well suggest he consumed too much. He enjoyed the life that his wealth and position afforded.

I like that about him. I am drawn to a reformer who had the capacity to live large and still care for people living in desperation.

I also like that he seems to have made peace with his privilege and his calling. In my early years at YSM when personal money was truly tight, I could pretend that in the divide between the rich and poor, I stood more with the poor — not truly impoverished, but poor enough, and clearly not nearly affluent. That ended when I realized I could buy a $2 slice of pizza at any time, and would go home to a warm bed, when many people I knew could not. I realized that even in Toronto the difference between being rich or poor was simply “enough.” If you had “enough” you were rich and I had enough. I wasn’t affluent like a king or even a mayor but I did get to banquet with family and friends, my life eventually allowed for luxuries such as a trailer on the east coast and a motorcycle for the sheer joy of riding.

This dance between abundance and justice gets to the heart of questions such as “How much is enough”? and manifests itself in concerns like “How much should I give?” or “How much can I earn?” or “How much may I keep for myself?” Josiah does not comment on those questions: we simply are told that he lived well and invested himself in the well-being of the poor, with no contraction between the two.

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“ebyown – the dependent poor”

He pled the cause of the oppressed poor and the dependent poor. The Hebrew word aniy is the most frequently used word in the Hebrew scripture to describe the poor. They are the people who are poor by virtue of being politically or systemically oppressed, as well as individuals who have been personally violated, assaulted or victimized. Israel is oppressed while enslaved in Egypt as is King David’s daughter Tamar who had been raped by her half-brother.

On the other end of the spectrum the Hebrew word ebyown refers to the dependent poor, not unlike the beggar who sat and solicited alms in front of the temple or the welfare recipients of our world. They are people who depend on the charity of others for their survival. There may be many reasons for dependency, including victimization, or illness or one might simply have learned how to be dependent.

Aniy and ebyown bookend a number of types of poverty outlined in the scriptures and when used together might well convey the full range of people living with poverty. That would suggest that King Josiah advocated for “all the poor”.

It would be easy to paint Josiah as living the high life while pleading with others to be charitable and then to assume this is nothing more than the audacious trumpeting of the guilt ridden. However the text informs us that he did justice and lived righteously: before he pled the cause, he worked for justice.

I think he worked to ensure that the laws were fair for the poor and rightly applied to their lives. I think he pled their cause before the courts and I think he advocated for charitable attitudes on the part of the self-sufficient.

In the end “pled” is a legal term: Josiah was the Advocate General for the poor. He championed their life and rights. Interestingly the text ends with a very tough rhetorical question: Is this not what it means to know me declares the Lord. The questions equates pleading the cause of the poor to knowing God. It blatantly asserts that to know God is to champion the cause of the poor. So maybe the question is not about how big I live but rather to what degree am I invested in obtaining justice for the oppressed and dependant..

 – Blessings … Rick Tobias

Josiah was also a religious reformer who called his people back to their God.  Neshama Carlebach and the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir sing “Return Again,” by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (Neshama’s dad.) God’s constant invitation to us is to return.

Doing Their Part

Doing their part is a way for me to show appreciation for people I’ve met who have been influential over me (and often many others), or who simply are impressively committed, insightful or effective in pursuing compassion and justice.    

Gerald Vandezande  Gerry Vandeznade

When I arrived in Toronto in 1983, Gerald Vandezande was a well-known Christian leader and social advocate. He had launched and championed the Christian Labour Association of Canada and was instrumental in the development and ministry of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ).

Since 1963 CPJ has been speaking out for public justice across Canada. They have promoted a Christian view of the government, worked to create a moratorium on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, and have spoken to issues from social policy, to recycling, tax reform, child poverty, First Nations’ rights, refugees and the environment.

The Christian justice movement in Canada stands on Gerald’s shoulders. All across this nation, people involved in community development, social advocacy and human rights initiatives – many who have never heard Gerry’s name  – are nonetheless deeply indebted to his foundational justice work that has shaped our lives and ministries.

When I was a younger leader he never missed a chance to praise and encourage me in my work. He supported the initiatives of many young leaders including the Street Level movement to bring young justice workers together for mutual support and training. We knew he was a big deal, but he acted like we were the big deal. He always insisted I should write: finally, here in this blog, I am attempting to comply.

Gerald passed away in 2011 and I still would be hard pressed to find a compassionate or justice oriented leader who is not in his debt. Gerald, thank you for showing us the way to be Christians committed to the rights and well-being of all.

– RT

Read more about CPJ here.