Oppressed & Oppressors

I’ve read three things recently which have made me mad. Three things which seem to me to highlight humanity’s sad inclination to oppress the most vulnerable.

First, I’ve been reading about the American drone program. This is an increasingly frighting remote control arms race which the Obama administration has been pursuing. Drone strikes often ignore  international law and national borders, and they turn war into a distant video game for “pilots” who sit at computers back in Arizona. But more than that, the psychological cost is huge, especially for civilians in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, who live in fear of random missiles raining from the sky. These are simply the latest in a long line of people who experience oppression under the boot of the empire.

Second, I’ve been reading about the case of Dr Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor who was just convicted of murdering three babies who were born alive. This case has brought the topic of abortion to attention in the public sphere again. It’s an emotive topic, and I admit to feeling real anger as a Christian for the millions of babies who never get to have a voice. Can there be a more stark example of oppression than this? I also know that the factors which lead to abortion are complicated, and education is such a high need. I feel anger on behalf of the women who live in poverty because of the oppressive decisions of governments or local city councils, and who see abortion as their only option. It’s hugely sad and hugely complicated.

Third, I’ve been reading about my own governments decision to effectively add to Auckland’s gambling problem as payment for their own glittering idol. So, Auckland gets a $402 million convention centre, funded by SkyCity, and SkyCity gets, among other things, 230 pokie extra machines, 40 extra gambling tables, and (from the article) “gets its licence extended to 2048 and until then, if any future Government changes gambling laws and affects the profits the company gets from its new concessions, the taxpayer will have to pay compensation.” This is a deal with the devil paid for off the back of problem gamblers. It is oppressive legislation, both to people caught up in gambling and to every New Zealander for the next 35 years.

Thankfully, I’ve also been reading something which is giving me hope: Jesus’ encounter with the oppressed and the oppressor in Luke 18:35-19:10, and Kenneth E. Bailey’s reflections on these encounters in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.

First, Jesus meets a blind man. A person who, because of his condition, experiences social and economic oppression. When this blind man calls out to Jesus, he also experiences oppression from the crowd who are there to see Jesus. They tell him, effectively, “Shut up.” But Jesus shows this man compassion, pays him attention, and heals him. The crowd see it, and praise God. It’s a wonderful story: the oppressed (the blind man) receives compassion and healing, and the oppressors (the crowd) are put in their place. This is Jesus in action, prophetically judging the oppressors, and bringing good news to the oppressed. When I read about the oppressed I mentioned above, I long for that kind of action on their behalf.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Second, Jesus meets Zacchaeus. This guy is the oppressor of his local community. He’s a collaborator with the Roman Gestapo, loading down the already poor with taxes, and taking a bit off the top for himself. The crowd do not like Zacchaeus, and violence is in the air. They expect Jesus to condemn the oppressor, to march past him chanting “Enough is enough!” Yet, instead, Jesus asks if he can spend the night at Zacchaeus’ house. He takes the heat for the collaborator. The crowd are no fans of this idea; by entering the house of this tax-collector Jesus is making himself ceremonially unclean. The interesting thing, though, is that Jesus’ actions have a saving, transformative effect. Zacchaeus is turned around and set down in the right direction. He’s welcomed into a family, and his life is changed.

Jesus wasn’t a crusading zealot revolutionary, but he wasn’t a “it’s all about the heart so forget the politics” type, either.

I reckon that Jesus models a third way for us. In both encounters, his love and compassion is also a kind of judgement. And in both cases, his judgement is restorative and transformative.

I wonder how Jesus’ confronting compassion and loving judgement might encounter the oppressed and the oppressors of our time?


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