“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)
The first question that comes to the top of our heads when we mention the word “poverty” is: Do we really have poor people in Singapore?
Sure, we have people who are constantly complaining about how poor they are – that’s inevitable. But according to MFA and Forbes, we are the third richest country in the world today, with reference to our overpowering GDP.
While we do have homeless people, elderly who cannot afford to retire and families mired in financial difficulty, Singaporeans are nowhere near the poorest of the poor.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Besides our financial superiority over most of the world, crime rates in our country are insignificantly minute and mostly minor. One is more likely to have more money taxed or fined than robbed. The judicial system of Singapore ensures that justice is swift and imposed so heavily that it is simply not worth it to even try to commit crimes.
So, how does the idea of justice for the poor and needy apply to us? How can Singaporeans obey and work out this command of God by executing justice where justice is due? How do we become the good Samaritan to the battered Jew (Luke 10:25-37) where there is no literal “battered Jew” in our line of sight?
What if there is a way in which all of us can participate in justice in the world today? Caring for the “poor and needy” does not need to be limited to sending hand-me-downs to Salvation Army. Generous giving to the forgotten and outcast can be more than giving back the two out of the three packets of tissues you bought for $1 from the tissue auntie.
We don’t always have to go overseas and do a humanitarian mission trip even though that is a perfectly sound idea. If we are open to the idea of justice that includes but goes beyond caring for the broken and impoverished where we can see them, realising that God’s heart is to care for every single individual in the world today, we will be able to see how our every action can lead to large repercussions, both positive and negative.
THE INHUMANITY OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING
One of the most terrible forms of inhumanity is to completely breach an individual’s human’s rights for self-gain, and the way it has dominantly prevailed in the unseen world today is through human trafficking.
If passages such as Deuteronomy 15-16 give us an idea of God’s standard of human rights, then human trafficking is the law’s nemesis – a totally opposite end of the spectrum of justice.
Let that awareness hit you. Yes, people do get paid nothing at all in the world today.
Labour trafficking comprises of a vast majority of human trafficking, together with sex trafficking, and is very literally modern-day slavery. 21 million people of the world today are victims of forced labour, made to work long hours for close to, if not nothing in return.
Victims are forced into labour with threats, fraud, violence, and many other inhuman methods to fuel the selfish gains of the industry. And regardless of how small our efforts may seem, everyone can join the fight against this revolting movement that is oppressing the last, the least and the lost.
THE PRICE OF CARELESS CONSUMERISM
The prosperity of Singapore breeds a culture of consumerism: The more we are given, the more we want.
We want more and more, but want to pay less and less for it. So when we walk into a supermarket, our eyes have been trained to find the cheapest item possible.
But one of the many factors that determines the price of an item is the labour cost. After you exclude raw material, packaging, freight and advertising costs, as well as the profit margin taken by the retailer, whatever is left is how much those involved in the manufacturing process are paid.
So consider the possibility that your cost savings may be down to the labourer being unfairly paid – exploited – for his or her labour. With this in mind, maybe we should add one more dimension to our decision-making process beyond “cheap and good: The guarantee of social justice for its employees.
Consider the possibility that your cost savings may be down to the labourer being unfairly paid – exploited – for his or her labour.
Buying from manufacturers and retailers that apply the principles of fair trade – for example, transparency, the creation of opportunities for the economically disadvantaged, and ensuring that no child or forced labour is used in the process – is us making a stand for justice, that every labour receives what he is rightly due. In 1 Timothy 5:18, the Bible plainly and clearly describes this principle: “The worker deserves his wages.”
This is just one way we can fight for justice even in our everyday decisions. The point here is that we need to consider how we make our spending decisions, beyond merely looking at the state of our bank accounts. Sometimes the price is worth paying.
THE EXCUSE OF APATHY
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
The sad truth is, revelation of injustice right under our noses is usually confronted by apathy. We struggle to care about who gets what as long as we get what we want.
We have to ask ourselves, the “Israelites” of today – God’s people – how else can we be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45)? How can we show compassion to the poor as God cares for the broken-hearted?
In the prophetic books, two minor prophets by the names of Micah and Amos spoke out valiantly against the social injustice that was happening in the land of Judah and Israel. The anger and conviction in their writing is apparent.
If the idea of injustice does not severely convict us, our generosity will never go beyond giving to charity foundations and spare change for buskers.
The highlighted theme of both books is not merely the ignorance of the poor, but the oppression they face, even from the “people of God themselves.” The nation of Israel, who was once an oppressed nation in the land of Egypt, forgot about their past and started becoming oppressors themselves to their own people.
They accepted the lie of apathy and forsook God’s values to care for the weak and the downtrodden. That is why Micah, a book that fluctuates between judgement and hope, is summarised in Micah 6:8.
As much as God is bringing judgement to those who are exploiting the poor and needy, His reminder to them of His standards to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God” shows His heart of desiring their repentance, to one day become a holy example to the nations around them.
We must relate this heart of God to ourselves, the people of God today. If the idea of injustice does not severely convict us, our generosity will never go beyond giving to charity foundations and spare change for buskers.
It takes a life-changing decision to embrace justice in every ounce of our lifestyles to ensure that God’s just character is being reflected in us.
Therefore, what does it mean to live a just life?
Maybe to bring it a little closer to home, think about what a just God looks like to the foreign workers we see working at the roadside? How does He look like to your domestic helper?
We will never be able to strive for a just life if we are not convicted by the reason for it.
We can choose to live a life of apathy, or we can choose to live a life that imitates Christ. In fact, the Gospel of Luke was written to show Jesus’ ministry to the minority, His outreach to the outcast. We see Jesus specifically recorded reaching out to those whom society deemed as unworthy – women, children, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, Gentiles.
As imitators of God Himself (Ephesians 5:1), should we not then exemplify this compassionate trait of His?
From buying fair-trade groceries in the supermarket to impartial treatment for both countrymen and foreigners, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)