Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from February 11, 2018, on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:19-24. This is part of our second series this year on the Sermon on the Mount, this one focused on “Love as the Fulfillment of the Law.” The television commercial mentioned in the sermon can be viewed here. The sermon by Martin Luther King mentioned in the sermon can be read and listened to here.
And here’s a written excerpt, on Jesus’ emphasis on economic justice:
Over the last six weeks we have looked at the middle section of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This has been our guiding principle:
Jesus gives us a new Law, a Law which is really a Way, a way of life, the way of love.
Jesus says that he has come “to fulfill the Law and the Prophets,” to bring them to their completion, to their climax. Through his teaching about loving God and others, and through his life, death, and resurrection demonstrating God’s love for all, Jesus “fulfills the Law,” the Old Testament Law of Moses.
As we have seen, sometimes this “fulfilling the Law” looks like Jesus digging down below the external actions described in the Law and getting to the roots of those actions. Sometimes this “fulfilling the Law” looks like Jesus outright overturning a specific commandment from the Law that simply doesn’t fit with the law of love.
And sometimes, like in our teaching today, this “fulfilling the Law” looks like Jesus highlighting a prominent theme in the Law of Moses and bringing it home to our everyday lives.
Because that’s what’s behind all Jesus’ teaching about money: the Law of Moses. And there’s a lot of teaching by Jesus on money—it is, in fact, one of his most common topics. Behind all of it is the economic justice advocated in the Law of Moses.
Running right through the Law of Moses is a concern for the poor, including those poor who are most disadvantaged in society: widows, orphans, and foreigners. You can’t read more than a few paragraphs in the Law of Moses before hitting one or more of these words: “the poor,” “the widow,” “the orphan,” “the alien,” “the stranger.”
Moses’ Law was on the cutting edge of law codes in the Ancient Near East in terms of economic justice for all these groups. In the Law of Moses:
Charging interest on loans to the poor was forbidden. (Exod 22:25)
The poor were given cheaper options for sacrifices, allowing them to participate in Temple worship. (Lev 14:21ff.)
The edges of one’s fields in harvest were to be left for the poor and the foreigner, for them to gather. (Lev 19:10; 23:22)
The last of the olives on the tree and the grapes on the vine were to be left for the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan to collect. (Deut 24:19-21)
Employers were not to withhold wages from the poor or the foreigner who worked for them; they were, in fact, to be paid daily. (Deut 24:14-15)
The Law of Moses pronounces a special blessing upon God as the one who shows justice to the orphan and the widow, and who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing. (Deut 10:18)
The Law of Moses pronounces a particular curse upon those who deprive the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow of justice. (Deut 27:19)
Most radical of all in the Law of Moses was the year of Jubilee (Lev 25; cf. Deut 15). It was a special Sabbath year, every 50th year—the year after seven sevens. In that year of Jubilee:
Debts were forgiven. This ensured that no one would ever be crippled by debt—you couldn’t actually have any debt hanging over you for more than seven years.
Land was returned to the original family who owned it. This ensured that those who had to sell their land to pay off debts wouldn’t remain landless forever.
Jewish slaves were freed. This ensured that those who had to sell themselves to pay off debts wouldn’t remain enslaved forever.
For anyone mired in poverty, shackled by debt, the Jubilee year would have felt like being raised from the dead, like being blind and now seeing, like being lame and now leaping for joy!
So, yes, economic justice was a prominent theme through the Law of Moses. And it remained a prominent theme through the Hebrew Prophets. From Isaiah to Amos, from Jeremiah to Micah, the prophets highlighted injustice against the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner as particularly judgment-worthy sins in ancient Israel.
And so, Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets by following in their footsteps, speaking blessing upon the poor, pronouncing woe upon the rich, declaring into the cavernous wealth gap of his day that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
In fact, Jesus described economic justice as one of the main planks of his political platform, if you will, one of the defining features of his Messianic, kingdom-of-God ministry. That’s in Luke 4, where Jesus declares that the words of Isaiah 61 are now being fulfilled through him:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Did you hear that? It’s the year of Jubilee. Jesus declares that in his ministry he is fulfilling the promise of economic justice given in Moses’ year of Jubilee: “good news for the poor,” “release for the captives,” “freedom for the oppressed,” the “year of the Lord’s favor.”
In other words, Jesus comes to fulfill the Law—including its emphasis on economic justice.
The way of love is the way of justice for all, including (and even especially) economic justice.
This is probably a whole sermon series in itself. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot that can be done for us to pursue economic justice in our world today.
How does our economic system saddle people with debt in a way that Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus would deplore?
What would Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus say about our system of high-interest loans?
About the number of disadvantaged people struggling to support a family on less than living wages?
About our approach to property ownership?
Or to indigenous land claims?
All these are about economic justice, and the Law and the Prophets, and Jesus in fulfillment of them, have much to say about these things and more.