For those who have no voice…….
Nehemiah has waited and has finally been presented with the opportunity to ask the king for help. To ask the king of Babylon to help the exiled Jews to rebuild their city.
When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. Nehemiah 2:10
Or as the Message says, ‘ they were very upset, angry that anyone would come to look after the interests of the People of Israel’.
People in power rely on people with no power. They need people to work for them. They need to keep these people in their place. It suits them that such people have no voice. So for someone like Nehemiah to lend them a voice and support them and promote their welfare and look after their interests is bound to get on their nerves.
In all societies, there are people with no voice. For the people of Israel, it had always been the widows and the foreigners. God had always made it clear He expected His people to promote the welfare of the downtrodden and dispossessed. God Himself had freed His people from slavery and exploitation.
When Jesus came, he preached more about the poor than about anything else. He was always looking to include the outsider, to welcome society’s unwanted, to challenge social norms. He valued the individual. He saw past their role or their sins or their poverty or their illness or their state of mind. He saw their humanity. He saw the essence of God within every individual. He truly valued every single person, regardless of sex, ability, intelligence, race, status, role…..
And in our society today, who are the dispossessed and the downtrodden? Who are the people with no voice?
People all over the world are still in slavery. Exploited to work hard for low wages. Risking their lives to produce our cheap goods.
People all over the world are living in inhuman conditions. Finding food on rubbish dumps. Drinking unclean water. Sleeping ten to a room. Stretching out their food rations to feed a whole family. Risking their lives to escape in overcrowded boats and lorries.
People all over the world are facing death every single day. Children waking up in war zones. Playing amongst the rubble. Witnessing scenes no human should ever have to face.
And what about closer to home? What about those with no voice who we encounter every single day? Those with zero hours contracts. The refugees. Those with learning difficulties or mental health issues or physical disabilities. The long term unemployed. Those living on benefits.
With no self esteem. No confidence. No worth. No voice.
We must find ways to respond. We have to pray and ask God how He wants us to be involved. What He wants us to do. This is the heart of the Christian faith. This is what Jesus was all about.
And this will upset people. The rich and the powerful. Of course it will. It rocks the boat. It’s subversive. Just like Jesus.
And to take this one step further. We may not be presented everyday with opportunities to speak out for those with no voice, but I can guarantee we are faced everyday with the temptation to do the opposite. To drag someone down. To undermine their self-worth. To judge by stereotype. To treat someone as less than human.
Every time we roll our eyes or tut or pull faces behind someone’s back, we are treating them as less than human. Every time we objectify someone by judging their appearance – giving them marks out of 10 for ‘hotness’ – we are treating them as less than human. Every time we are dismissive or condescending or patronising, we are treating them as less than human.
Remember what I said before about Jesus? He valued the individual. He saw their humanity. He saw the essence of God within every individual. He truly valued every single person, regardless of sex, ability, intelligence, race, status, role…..
How well do we do with that?
Because our humanity is precious. It’s what makes us different from all living creatures. It is to be protected. Because we are the only beings to created in God’s image, with God’s essence within us. It may seem well hidden deep down within some people, but every human ever created reflects the image of God.
That’s why respect for the individual – every individual – is key to our faith. It matters.
We need to be so careful about how we talk about people. How we treat people. So much more careful. Our tone of voice. The expression in our voice. The quality of attention we give.
When we get it right, these moments are special. Precious. The first chapter of ‘Sex God’ by Rob Bell is all about this. It’s called ‘God wears lipstick’ – read it to understand! He describes these kind of moments –
Moments when all of the ways that we divide ourselves and rank each other and convince ourselves of how different, better and unalike we are disappear, and we are faced with the fact that first and foremost, we are humans. In this together. And not that much different from each other.
Imagine if we truly lived out our faith in this way. Imagine what our churches would look like.
A church exists to be a display of the new humanity. A community of people who honour and respect the poor and rich and educated and uneducated and Jew and Gentile and black and white and old and young and powerful and helpless as fully human, created in the image of God.
Imagine that. We have to imagine it because it is not the reality, is it? Not yet. Not our experience of church. Well if it is, I’d love to hear about it! Maybe we get glimpses of it from time to time. I can think of some moments recently actually, where I witnessed this – and it was glorious, a real moment of heaven on earth.
This God’s way. When we call ourselves Christians, followers of the The Way, this is what is expected of us.
To treat every single individual as fully human. With the respect they deserve as a bearer of God’s image. And to speak up and speak out for those with no voice. What a challenge! Doing our bit to bring heaven to earth – today!