12For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins –
you who afflict the righteous,
who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
I love this phrase, “You…who…push aside the needy in the gate.” Too often we have seen people push their way past those they think of no significance. It is not just the homeless man, sleeping on a piece of cardboard where the church’s outer wall connects to the sidewalk, it is the stranger in the crowd, the woman on the train who walks a little too slowly, the driver at the intersection who doesn’t move as quickly as we wish. It is the clerk at the store who becomes the target of all manner of hostility, or the customer blithely ignored by the clerk chatting on the phone. We do it quite a bit, failing to see the other as a person, especially the poor.
But the text is not just speaking about pushing past the beggar at the gate. The gate is where the city elders sat in judgment. It was the equivalent of the courthouse, where decisions were made about injustices done, contracts broken, insults spoken that deserved punishment.
To “push aside the needy at the gate” is to dismiss the complaints of the poor. It is to rule in favor of the city elders (the city elite) by the city elders for the city elders. It is to defend the powerful rather than the weak. It is to choose the wealthy rather than the poor. It is to ignore the most basic of Biblical commands.
“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.
“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.
“For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
“Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.
“Be careful to do everything I have said to you. (Exodus 23:6-13)
13 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.
14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:13-18)
Justice. Mercy. Care of the poor. Loving your neighbor. Seeing your neighbor. It all connects.
There is a line in Jesus Christ, Superstar where Jesus, overwhelmed by the crowds clawing at him for healing, cries out “Heal yourselves!” But there is nothing like that in the Gospels. We understand the impulse recorded in the musical. We see the needy as needy. We hear their cries as cries. Jesus seems always to see the person. He pushes no one aside.