For anyone who has ever driven a car, you know there are times when you have to hit the brakes. Now it is impossible to drive a vehicle and not have to use the braking system. With starts and stops, you have to gently press the brakes to slow your car down and bring it to a halt. Yet, there are other times when you have to hit the brakes to avoid hitting something else and having an accident. Instead of slowly pushing the brake pedal to ease your speed, you hit the brakes hard to bring the car to a screeching stop. And while slamming on the brakes can create a scare for those in the car, sometimes it is necessary for all’s safety and well-being.
In the Bible, the prophet’s role was one that often slammed on the brakes for the people of Israel. As God’s chosen people, Israel had entered into a covenantal relationship with God. A covenant which called for faithful allegiance to God alone as well as an ethical responsibility for others. The people had agreed to love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds, and to love their neighbor. However, there were times in which the people of Israel failed at both of these covenant promises. They often chased after other gods and forgot their relationship with God. To make matters worse, even when the people claimed allegiance to God alone, it did not often translate into loving their neighbor. Instead, Israel’s people allowed injustices to multiply, often neglecting the care for the most vulnerable in their society. In some cases, the people mistreated these individuals, ignored others, and oppressed the least of these. As a result, the prophets often cried out against the people, hitting the brakes and shaking things up with the injustices that prevailed.
One of the most prominent and well-known prophets in scripture is that of the prophet Isaiah. This eighth-century prophet of Israel cried out against the people for allowing injustice to flourish in their society. Isaiah 1 states, “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. ” (Isaiah 1:17) Isaiah called the people to return to the ways of the covenant where all people were treated fairly, where the least of these were cared for, and where their faith in God refused to allow injustices to stand in society. Isaiah reminds us that our faith must be active just by his word choice in the above scripture: “learn, seek, rescue, defend, and plead.” Isaiah “hit the brakes” and disrupted the comfortable ride of the people.
It is easy to become comfortable in our faith journey where we are content because our world’s injustices have no direct effect on us. We know that people in our world are oppressed and suffering, but we often continue in our spiritual journey without much thought to their condition because it does not touch our own lives. Or if we do respond to such a situation, we meet their current need without addressing our society’s unjust systems that have left them in their current state. We can easily band aid the problem without considering the source of their wounds.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic. Bonhoeffer once wrote, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Bonhoeffer, a modern-day prophet, realized that sometimes you had to hit the brakes. It was not good enough to treat the victims of injustices, but one had to bring the injustice itself to a halt. The church could not merely journey forward while so many were left behind. At some point, the church would have to cry out, “enough is enough.”
So many in our world today continue to suffer injustice, oppression, and persecution. Whether it is racism in our own country, global sex trafficking, poverty, inadequate healthcare, or other human rights issues, the church must be a prophetic voice and agent of change. The church must provide a voice to the voiceless and be willing to sacrifice its sense of comfortableness as it engages the injustices in our society. Like Jesus, sometimes you have to turn over tables and challenge the status quo. As followers of Jesus, we cannot make a blind journey through life on cruise control but must be willing to hit the brakes even if it means throwing everything around in the car/church.