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Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
By Rev. Sam Altis
Isaiah 58 riles me up, especially in our current cultural and political climate. As I hear the prophet call out shallow religious practices that somehow still allow for the oppression of others, I get energized, and, if I’m honest, a little angry. As I read on, I can’t help but begin to think about specific people who I think are guilty of this ancient sin. I mentally scroll through my Facebook feed, identifying and condemning certain people. Then I get to 58:9-10.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves on 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.”
Suddenly, it’s calling out my own self-indulgent, judgmental posture towards others, and it brings me back to something I know is true: Darkness gives way to light only when our opposition to injustice refuses to scapegoat others. If, in my zeal to see others treated more humanely, I dehumanize those I oppose, then I’ve already lost.
Isaiah 58 makes me ask myself, “Do I want my side to win, or do I want to see true light and wholeness in the world?” Then, as I mentally scroll through my Facebook feed, I begin to see everyone on it filled with the divine breath that Genesis 2 describes. And my anger gives way to hope – hope that light will, ever so slowly, break through.
All of this doesn’t mean that I won’t oppose oppression. It just grounds my opposition in a divine truth. Light emerges when everyone becomes my neighbor, even, perhaps especially, those I think aren’t acting very neighborly.
Rev. Sam Altis is a research assistant for the Center for Innovation in Ministry at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.
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