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“Tzedakah” - A new word for our vocabulary

By: Admin on August 1, 2012

This week I am beginning a three-week sermon series that will be focusing on our understanding of biblical justice. We live in a world (at least in North America) where there is a subtly to the injustices around us. I’m convinced that this subtly often causes us to sinfully ignore or minimize things that we see and experience in our daily lives. How does God want us to respond to issues of poverty? How do we treat the homeless? Does God really expect that we can make a difference? As I’ve been preparing for this series, I’ve come across a wonderful Hebrew word found in Isaiah 58.

If you are familiar with this Old Testament passage, you know that the prophet Isaiah was rebuking the Hebrew people for once again getting off track. It seems that they had turned ‘fasting’ into a public spectacle that resembled more of an olympic competition rather than a humble act of personal worship. As part of this correction, Isaiah writes,

“You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? ...Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”

Whats so interesting about this passage, is that God is not condemning some obvious bad behavior. He is condemning what the people thought was very good and God pleasing behavior. I wonder how often we are guilty of that same thing. We convince ourselves that our behavior is in some way honoring to God, when in fact it maybe the reason why we have lost the ability to hear His voice.

The passage then goes on to tell us what kind of ‘fast’ God really wants from His followers.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Powerful words.

In the original Hebrew scriptures, the word often translated as ‘charity’ is the word, “tzedakah”. It is one of those words that doesn't translate well into the English language and carries with it a rich and seldom understood meaning. Charity is an ideal that we are familiar with, but ‘tzedakah’ requires us to take our care for the poor and needy to a different level. “Tzedakah’ forces us to ask what it might look like to consider those in need as equals. It forces us to re-evaluate our charity, and invites us to give in a way that makes a long term difference in the lives of those struggling. Where charity represents the first step, “tzedakah” forces us to look at how we can provide a lasting hope for those who are victims of injustice. “Tzedakah”, asks each of us to choose justice, over charity.

Isaiah tells the people that their unwillingness to practice this, has resulted in silence from God, but He also offers them hope. It doesn't have to be that way. When we learn to understand that “tzedakah” is the true ‘fast’ that God wants from His followers, His voice will be heard and His presence experienced.

““Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

May we all, “...spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed...”. “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

Looking forward to wrestling through these issues with you.

See you Sunday @ Waverley!

Topics: giving, justice, message series, outreach, volunteering

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