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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Isaiah and Economic Justice 1: Introduction

With occasional discipline, I have been reading a few verses from Isaiah to start my workday, starting from the beginning of the book. I have been struck by the way that economic oppression was the key target of Isaiah's message.

Of course, I had seen this sort of theme in Isaiah before, especially from chapter 58. But through most of my life as a scripture reader, I was not inclined to notice the centrality of themes of economic justice. The stories in the narrative sections of the Old Testament, the Former Prophets, emphasize the temple worship and sins of idolatry, and few readers are skilled in linking prophetic texts to the quick summaries of history included in Samuel and Kings.

A careful reader might notice at times that the Former Prophets take a position against relying on violence for power and against abusing the common people. Yet even the stories of Solomon, Rehoboam, and Jeroboam tend to shift attention away from the rise of slave labor and princely wealth and toward the relation of the king to the temple.

Modern readers are not inclined to think of economic injustice when we think of idolatry. We are too schooled in the marketplace model of faith, wherein there is a competition for members among various enterprises hawking religion. In this model, we quantify success by numbers of converts added to lists, and we diminish the fruition of conversion in moral formation and community transformation.

But this look at Isaiah is reminding me that if we are true worshipers of the Lord, then we must learn to recognize the economic injustices that offend our God. Toward that purpose, let me make note of a few examples in my reading thus far. I make no claim to be comprehensive. In the coming days I will post comments on the following texts: Isaiah 1:12-18; Isaiah 2:7-9, 18, 20-21; Isaiah 3:12b-15; Isaiah 3:18-24; Isaiah 5:8-10; Isaiah 5:20-23; Isaiah 8:1-4; and Isaiah 10:1-2. All selections are from the NRSV.

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