Isaiah 58:9b-10 “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
What was this ‘yoke of oppression’ that Isaiah spoke about? It was a heavy, unfair, and unjust burden which his people were pitilessly forced to carry by the civil and military authorities over them. In Isaiah’s time, this yoke was a brutal and intimidating oppression experienced by the Jewish people in exile. And even when they returned to their own land, the Jews were still harassed, intimidated, and ruthlessly killed by their recent captors. So Isaiah’s people cried out to God for justice; they sought the Lord’s help to break this unbearable yoke.
Sadly, in our nation today, African Americans are fearfully living under a similar yoke of oppression which manifests itself in prejudicial, unjust, and inhumane killings of black people by law enforcement officers. Despite having been given freedom, equal rights, and countless assurances by community leaders, African Americans are still constantly harassed and attacked, bullied and beaten, cornered and killed. It is a yoke of oppression over their communities; it is a mark of shame across America.
And even when African Americans try to make our society plainly aware of their painful plight by protesting and carrying signs with the words ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we still don’t get it. We ignore their pleas by saying they brought it on themselves. We excuse law enforcers by telling ourselves that protecting and serving our communities is not easy. And then we add to the yoke of oppression by thinking, saying, or writing something like ‘All lives matter,’ which sadly, albeit unintentionally, reinforces racism, casts aside legitimate complaints, and diminishes black people everywhere.
As Christians, we are called to show compassion, seek justice, and practice mercy in our lives. We cannot continue to ignore these killings, nor can we allow racism to spread through our own inaction. We need to actively listen to those who are oppressed and receive their raw, painful feedback. We need to hear their cries of injustice, and especially call out those who hide behind badges of authority in order to perpetrate racism. Black Lives Matter, because if they don’t, then we are perhaps deluded and in denial in exactly the same unjust and inhumane ways that slave owners once were.
Questions for personal reflection
When I hear or read of another black person being unjustly shot by a cop, what is my first reaction? When I see or read the words, “Black Lives Matter,” how do I react?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, these are troubled times, yet we are reluctant to see them for what they are. We long for peace in our communities and advocate equal rights, yet we are blind to the racism and inequality which still shamefully exists. Open our eyes that we may truly see why Black Lives Matter. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to Traqair@aol.com.
Today’s image is one of John’s MLK drawings called “He Who Dreams.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on this link: Dreamer.