In the late 1960s my dad taught me a powerful lesson.
Just down the street from our house lived a mom with three sons. As their paperboy, I was occasionally invited into their home. It was one of my earliest introductions to poverty. An unpleasant musty smell permeated their house and the furniture was old and overworn.
The mom was a kind, humble lady, who was frequently away from home. (In retrospect she probably worked extra jobs to make ends meet). Two of her sons were older than me and one was younger. The oldest son, TB, was hardworking and sought to excel, standing apart from his two younger brothers.
While not necessarily friends, our lives intersected because we rode the same school bus. I don’t remember the details, but TB was on the varsity wrestling team and did quite well. However, there must have been some problem because at the end of the season he was not awarded a varsity letter.
I’m not sure if that’s a big deal anymore, but at Richwoods High School it was noteworthy to be inducted into the R Club. Earning a varsity letter raised one’s status significantly.
Going the Extra Mile
For reasons unbeknownst to me, my dad contacted the wrestling coach and pled TB’s case, advocating that he deserved the honor and even more so because of his difficult circumstances. The coach was persuaded and decided to award the varsity letter even though the school’s athletic ceremony was already past.
The reason I remember this story is because my parents went the extra mile. Dad bought a letter jacket for TB. Those jackets were expensive! Then my parents invited the wrestling coach and TB to our home for supper. The coach presented the letter to TB, and dad gave him the jacket so he could proudly wear the letter he rightfully earned.
In Psalm 82:3 NIV, Asaph writes, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” The Hebrew word for weak is dal. The range of meanings includes helpless, powerless, insignificant, and even skinny.
TB was poor and fatherless, and in my upper-middle-class high school that could make someone feel powerless and insignificant. I’m so proud of my dad for being a God-fearing man that went to bat for the weak. He made sure that TB was treated fairly and with respect. My dad didn’t do it for show or because he would benefit from it. He did it because that was the right thing to do.
Uphold the Cause of the Poor and the Oppressed
God is still asking that of us. As the Twin Cities continue to reel from the trauma of George Floyd’s unjust death, I am looking for the most meaningful way for me as a pastor, and for us as Bereans, to "uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed."
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute (Psalm 82:3 ESV).
I’m not interested in optics or quick fixes. The issue of social justice is not optional; it’s not just an add-on. Those who have a heart for God must look out for and speak up on behalf of the oppressed. May God give us wisdom and resolve to do what is right.