The term “freedom fighter” is a twentieth century one that is mostly associated with the Indian Independence movement that culminated with Gandhi leading millions of Indians in a peaceful struggle in the face of brutal violence by the British. After that, people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have also been dubbed freedom fighters.
Though historians have not referred to Moses as a freedom fighter, he was one. He led an entire nation from slavery to their Promised Land. In fact, because the nationhood of Israel is derived from the covenant that Moses instituted between God and Israel, he dominates the entire history of Israel. Kings were required to make a copy of the Law that Moses had brought from God to Israel (Deut 17:18) and all the prophets engaged in recalling Israel to the covenant.
Old and New
When John wrote the gospel, he contrasted Moses with Jesus: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17). As you read through the gospels, you get the feel that there was a tug of war: people were pitting Moses (and all he represented, in terms of the Law and teachings of Moses and the prophets) against whatever Jesus said (Matt 10:2–9; Jn 8:5; 9:28–29).
Over Moses, the freedom fighter of the Old Covenant, was Jesus the freedom fighter of the New Covenant?
In our day, freedom fighters are all people who fought for independence from foreign rule or dominance by one class claiming racial superiority. It is for that reason that Moses can be classified as a freedom fighter. He was instrumental in liberating Israel from Egyptian rule. According to those terms, Jesus doesn’t fit the bill. He did nothing to liberate Jews from the hated Romans.
Freedom for the oppressed
Our Lord, however, claimed that God had sent Him to bring freedom to people:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Lk 4:18–19).
It wasn’t all talk (proclamations) that Jesus had come to do. He had come to set people free. He was claiming to be a freedom fighter just like Moses, and yet He did nothing to lead the Jews of His time into freedom from Rome’s oppressive rule. He didn’t oppose the Romans or lead a rebellion against them.
When Jesus stood trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, He had to answer the question whether He was a king. Pilate was worried. The Jewish authorities had accused Jesus of claiming to be the King of Jews. As Rome’s representative, Pilate needed to be sure that Jesus was not leading a rebellion against Roman rule. Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world and that if it were His disciples would be up in arms to protect Him. And then, Jesus told Pilate that He was indeed a king and had come to testify to the truth. Pilate dismissed that by hinting that no one could know the truth. As Francis Bacon said, “What is truth, said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.”
Moses (and every freedom fighter after him—Gandhi et al) worked to secure freedom in the physical realm. Jesus didn’t do anything about that kind of freedom. We get a clue about the freedom He brought by considering his proclamation of “good news to the poor” and of “the year of the Lord’s favour”.
The poor were a deprived lot. They were denied rights in the world of the rich and powerful. But Jesus had good news for them. He would not be one to keep them deprived. He would share the news of God’s Kingdom with them (Matt 5:3; Lk 6:20–21). Jesus would reveal the liberty that they had in God, so that they could live freely in spite of powerful abusers.
Old Testament law had instituted a year for cancelling debts (Deut 15:1–2). God had said that if Israel observed this rule, then there would be no poor in the nation (v.4). In a seeming contradiction, God went on to say that there would always be poor people (v.11), and then spelt out that the solution to poverty lay with people. They had to be generous and cancel debts and give those who were poor in their hour of need (vv.1-11).
As the years went by, this was one rule that was cast aside by people. They didn’t like the idea of cancelling debts or really helping poor people. They wanted to hoard what they had. Jesus said that He had come to proclaim a restoration of the year of the Lord’s favour so that people would open their hearts and be generous to people in need.
(to be continued…)