In the face of oppression

“You shall not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
Leviticus 19: 16

Martin Niemöller once wrote:

“If we had recognized that in the communists who were thrown into concentration camps, the Lord Jesus Christ himself lay imprisoned and looked for our love and help, if we had seen that at the beginning of the persecution of the Jews it was the Lord Jesus Christ in the person of the least of our human brethren who was being persecuted, and beaten and killed, if we had stood by him and identified ourselves with him, I do not know whether God would not then have stood by us and whether the whole thing would not then have had to take a different course.”

He was a decorated U-boat commander in the First World War. After the war he became a Lutheran pastor and later a pacifist, speaking out forcefully against war and especially the proliferation of nuclear weapons until his death on March 6, 1984.

Imprisoned by Hitler he did not stand idly by when his neighbor’s life was at stake. He recognized the call of God to respond to the forces of evil and protect the innocent.

I have since my high school days been plagued by the seeming indifference of many, including religious leaders, to the violence and racism of Hitler and Nazism. The witness of people like Martin Niemöller, the members of the White Rose, and the Austrian peasant Franz Jägerstätter who risked their lives in opposition to evil.

Will I continue to try to do this? Will I see the challenge that we followers of Christ face when we see the hungry, the refugee, the defenseless, the imprisoned? Will I, as todays Gospel notes, be among the sheep who respond to those in need or among the goats? (Matthew 25:31-46)

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