The question “who will contend with me?” is found in the lectionary readings for tomorrow, 9th April.
This is my summary of the OT portion, Isaiah 50:4-9a:
Isaiah says God called him to comfort the weary by passing on to them words which God gave him, regularly. He says he could have chosen to be rebellious, to disobey God, but chose instead to obey. He says he obeyed adamantly, in the face of opponents who harmed him with insulting words and with physically torture. He says they tried to shame him. He says he didn’t flinch. He says he didn’t flinch because he knew he was doing God’s will, and he knew God would help him. He says it was a question which kept him going. That question is “who will declare me guilty?”
As I turned the passage over in my mind, I thought of four days I spent last week in Penang.
I thought of offensive, unsubstantiated allegations about Annapuranee (“Anna”) Jenkins made by the police officer who had been assigned to investigate the case. I thought of gaps in the police account of “investigations” they conducted.
Anna is a 65-year-old Australian national who went missing in Penang in December 2017, whose remains were found in June 2020, and whose cause of death began to be explored last week in open court in Penang.
I had conversations with Anna’s son, with reporters, with lawyers, with police officers in uniform, with special branch officers in plain clothes.
Some asked me why I was there. One officer asked me if I was related to the Jenkins family. That’s understandable because I’d said I had travelled from KL just to attend the inquest, because I’d said I’m a blogger, and because like me, Anna was a dark-skinned Indian.
Why was I really there? Why have so many responded to the case with sympathy for the Jenkins family and outrage over the Malaysian authorities? Why are the authorities so anxious about the case?
Isaiah 50:8 and 9 ring in my ears: “Who will contend with me?” and “Who will declare me guilty?”
Romans 2:15 rings in my ears: “the work of the law is also written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
When we see injustice, we know. God gave to Isaiah a perspective on the injustice done to Him (God) when the Israelites chose to follow their own hearts, when they did and tolerated unjust acts, for example some living in great comfort off the toil of others. Read Isaiah 1. Listen for the words “a people laden with iniquity,” “they have forsaken the LORD.” Listen for these words: bribes, fatherless, murders, oppression, widows.
When we see injustice, three options are available to us: ignore it; help the oppressed; disable and punish the oppressor.
When we see injustice, we have to strain to end the weariness. Martin Luther King, martyred pastor and civil rights leader, commenting on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, pointed out that it’s not enough just to help the injured man; we have to face opposition and we have to labour with others to make the Jericho road safer.
In my weariness over the Anna Jenkins case, I was greatly comforted by what one of our members, Melanie Yong, wrote on her Facebook wall. She said she would be speaking to a church on Sunday and would share King’s insight. And she shared the photo which accompanies this column.
Melanie, instructed by God, was Isaiah to me. I’m grateful.
Let’s not be ashamed of the words of God, let’s not be wearied by the actions of oppressors. Let’s awaken to God’s word. Let’s be courageous. Let’s shame oppressors. Let’s disable systems of oppression.
Let’s each of us ask ourselves “Who will contend with me?”