for the rights of all who are left desolate.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
maintain the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9
When Israel and Judah were powerful, rich, and prosperous, the prophets were called by God to warn them of their downfall. Two main sins bothered God and the Prophets the most: worshiping idols and social injustice. Notice how these two sins violate directly the most important commandment God ever issued: Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Worshiping idols means not loving God, and letting the poor and weak suffer and grow poorer and weaker means not loving your neighbor.
It was Israel and Judah's failure to love God and love their neighbors (the poor and helpless) that led to the destruction of the temple and the defeat of their kings. If we don't take care of each other, God cannot take care of us. He wants to, but he can't. We make our bed, and we have to lie in it. That's what free will is all about. And that's why the Temple burned.
King Lemuel, whose words are recorded in Proverbs 31, tells us to speak up for those who cannot speak and to protect and guard the rights of those who are desolate, poor, and needy. He's speaking directly about obeying the social justice laws so well known to his audience. The Law given to Moses by God laid out a structure for taking care of the needy, but a lot of that law code doesn't really make sense today. The Law, for example, dealt with just treatment of slaves...something we find morally reprehensible today.
So how do we who are in the world today follow the wisdom of Lemuel? How do we open our mouths for those who can't? What can we do to help those who need help? How do we follow the spirit if not the letter of the old Law?
I think a lot of people feel overwhelmed by others' suffering and the whole issue of social justice. "There's just so much of suffering and injustice in the world! What can I do? I can't fix the problem, after all. Poverty and hunger have always been around, right? What good will my efforts be really? Not much, so why bother? I pay my taxes. Let the government handle the problem. Yeah, the authorities are paid to deal with it, so I won't worry about it."
The Enemy loves this kind of thinking. Where's the love? Nowhere. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, has something to say about how we should proceed:
That sounds like a pretty tall order, doesn't it? But what Wesley is saying is to keep your eyes open always to opportunities to do good. If your eyes are open and looking--actively looking--you'll find all sorts of mute suffering you can speak for, you'll find all sorts of injustice you can act upon, you will find the ways you specifically are called to serve those in need.
None of us can do it all, but we are called to do what we can.
My mother taught adult literacy so grown men and women could learn to read and write. My mother-in-law quilted for missions so the cold have warm blankets. My in-laws together take meals to the hungry through Meals on Wheels. My cousin and her husband spent their vacation helping several families clear mud and trash from their homes after Hurricane Katrina.
These people didn't solve big problems...there are still plenty of people in America who can't read or write, plenty of cold people all around the world, plenty of shut-ins who go hungry, plenty of new natural disasters every year since Katrina.
But they do what they can with what they have...and make a huge difference in people's lives. They show love to the mute and needy. Because they can.
Perhaps you already have your own crusade for social justice. Perhaps you already go to a church that provides you with lots of opportunities to serve the poor and suffering regularly with your gifts and your money. Perhaps you have found your call and are acting on it already. Perhaps you already keep your eyes open for opportunities wherever you are. If so, please share in the comments. It's not bragging; your suggestions may encourage others to find similar ways to help in their communities!
If you feel like you're not doing enough for social justice, look around. What needs do you see where you are right now? What can you do to follow the wisdom of Lemuel and open your mouth for those who quietly suffer and maintain the rights of the poor and needy? Don't be afraid to start small, and don't be afraid to start big, either! Just start.
Once you start, you'll be amazed at the difference you can make in others' lives...and your own.