“See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.”
God has called the prophet Ezekiel to judge the city of Jerusalem. The city and her inhabitants (society) are guilty of transgressions, and the charges are very serious. To shed the blood of the innocent, to dishonor father and mother, and to oppress the widow, the fatherless or the stranger are all serious violations of the Law. Israel has been told in numerous places that these acts are sinful. We can read about them in such places as the Commandments, Deuteronomy 24:14, Leviticus 20:9, and Exodus 22:21-24. However, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, especially the powerful, had no regard for the Law; the extent of evil which was committed was only limited by the capacity to commit evil.
Reading the above verses made me wonder: how would our city fare if judged in the same way? How does this society treat the defenseless and the disadvantaged? How do we treat fathers and mothers or the orphan? Twenty-first century America is not very different from Jerusalem during the time of Ezekiel. The widow and orphan are marginalized and ignored. Some become homeless, forced to sleep in the streets of our city. We view those most in need of compassion as a problem. Equally troublesome are the ways foreigners are excluded from society and are not given the same opportunities as everybody else. Children from other lands are brought here to be exploited in the most deprived ways. The list is rather lengthy and every single transgression need not be enumerated. But the fact is-this is our city.
It’s easy to say that it’s “society’s” fault that these injustices happen and to blame those in power as culpable. I think we like to shift the blame on a nebulous concept as “society” because it takes the responsibility off of our shoulders. After all, we figure we’re hard working Americans; we pay taxes to fund the multitudes of government departments and agencies that are tasked with taking care of the “disadvantaged.”
To make change, I think we need to start with ourselves. I was so distraught by the programming on mainstream television that (amongst other things) often dishonors the parent/adult characters-I cancelled cable. While this change doesn't solve our city’s problem, it does send a message to my kids that I honor God’s concept of family. I’ve also learned that if I’m going to try to change, then I’m going to have to get used to feeling uncomfortable. A couple of weeks ago, while I was walking in Pasadena, I noticed a homeless man sitting on the curb. I bought him a sandwich and when I handed it to him I realized he wanted my company more than the food I had to offer. But I wasn't comfortable with giving him my time or companionship. He shared with me how he had traveled from the Midwest in hopes of living in a warmer climate. I felt awkward and at a loss for words. I didn't get the immediate gratification of feeling good about myself for having “helped” him. As disastrous as I felt our encounter was, it was a first step for me. Normally, when I’m stopped at a light and someone standing on the corner is asking for money, I give him some without even making eye contact.
For me, these examples are small steps, but they’re small steps toward meaningful change. In both cases, I was drawn to reflect upon what matters to God and to pray for His guidance and presence especially when I come face to face with the injustices of our society.