Monday, January 5, 2015

Epiphany: He Will Crush the Oppressor

The Manifestion of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Gentiles
German, Würzburg, about 1240 (Getty Museum)

O GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- Collect for the Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

Give the king your justice, O God,
   and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
   and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
   and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
   give deliverance to the needy,
   and crush the oppressor.

For he delivers the needy when they call,
   the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
   and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
   and precious is their blood in his sight.

Psalm 72.1-4, 12-14, NRSV, from the Daily Office Readings for the Epiphany.   

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. In today's Gospel, the Magi  from the East, probably astrologers from Persia, follow a Star and reach the Christ Child in Bethlehem. They present him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts symbolize Christ's role as King, Priest, and Prophet respectively.

Today I was struck by Psalm 72, the Morning Psalm appointed in the Daily Office from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for the Feast of the Epiphany. Psalm 72 is a Messianic Psalm, prophetic of Christ's rule. In the Psalm, the Messiah-King is portrayed as a Liberator, a dispenser of Justice. He not only will hear the cries of the poor and oppressed, but he will "crush the oppressor."

The commentary for Psalm 72 in the Oxford Study Bible-Revised English Bible, which I was using this morning for my office readings, is quite illuminating. The commentary explains that "the absolute kings of the near east often shed blood with little remorse." One thinks of King Herod and the Holy Innocents. But the commentary points out that the Messianic King "redeems his people from oppression." In commenting on the verse 4 of Psalm 72, the Oxford Study Bible explains that to judge in this Psalm means to "vindicate the poor and to relieve suffering."

If we believe that Psalm 72 is prophetic of Christ, we should accept that God does take sides with the poor and oppressed, against the oppressor.

Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, Metropolitan Archbishop Emeritus for the Syrian Orthodox Church in India, counts Psalm 72 as his favorite Psalm. Mar Osthathios has spoken eloquently on the liberationist message of the Bible.

Christianity should not be a domesticated religion, but a prophetic one. Authentic Christianity "rebukes the oppressor (Isaiah 1.17, NKJV)." True Christianity is a force for liberation and justice, not a defender of the status quo. It is not an other-wordly religion. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has remarked that Christianity is a "materialist religion."

In the Epiphany, God is revealed to the Gentiles. God is revealed as a Liberator in today's Psalm. If we accept Christ as our Lord and God, we must accept Him as a Liberator, for He has revealed Himself as such. We can rejoice that Christ is against Oppression. Followers of Christ should resonate with this prayer for social justice from the Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY God, who hast created man in thine own image; Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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