The African Forum on Religion and Government (AFReG) calls on all Christians to increase our prayers as a faith community dialoguing on “African Identity, Dignity and Justice in the 21st Century.” This Tuesday, October 13, 2020, our theme is “Making Restitution.”
When Zacchaeus the Tax collector had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, his life was changed. One of his first actions as a changed person was to offer to right some of the wrongs that had characterized his life by offering restitution to those he had defrauded as a result of his profession as a tax collector, and to do so with interest:
Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19: 8)
For Him, being accepted by the Lord Jesus Christ in spite of His past life and his reputation as a sinner, called for more than a joyfully spiritual expression of the change in his life. It called for restitution to those who were victims of his past actions.
As the children of Israel journeyed from Egypt to the promised land, the laws, rules and regulations they received included making restitution. A reading of Exodus 22, Leviticus 5, 6, 22 and 24, and Numbers 5 all point to the importance of restitution for the people of God in the Old Testament. Restitution was due when the property of another was violated. Restitution was even due if one took or failed to give what is set aside for God as holy.
In our days, there is a tendency to feel that once we have repented from our past life and we have turned to the Lord Jesus Christ, He has saved us and wiped the slate clean. This is true. We cannot buy salvation. It is a free gift of God. The Lord Jesus gave His life already to redeem us. However, in gratitude to the free gift God has already given us, we yield our lives to Him, and place ourselves under His Lordship and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. A sign that we are grateful to God for what He has done for us is the desire to live right and to make things right. Often this includes responding to God’s love by restoring to people and communities what we have taken from them wrongly as a result of our past unredeemed lives. This is what Zacchaeus did, and this becomes a good example for us to follow today.
Restitution is a form of witness that the Lord Jesus has changed our lives. It is a witness to those who have been wronged, as well as people who are not committed to the Lord yet. When some Canadian Christian churches apologized to the First Nations of Canada more than ten years ago, they followed it up with some form of reparations or restitution.
After years of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery, there are millions of people who are still suffering from the legacies of slavery. Christians have denounced slavery and the slave trade. But very often some actions of the 21st Century in certain countries show that this denunciation is only in word and not in deed. The recent George Floyd killing also reminds us of the systemic racism that is often condoned by some who bear the name of Jesus Christ. In recent weeks AFREG had a series of webinars on African identity, dignity and justice. Talking about and working towards reparations could be fostering the movement towards making restitution.
A sign that we are grateful to God for the free gift of salvation could be to examine our lives and attitudes and in some cases right the wrongs that we have perpetuated or which generations that have gone before have perpetuated and we are benefitting from it. This is where the call for reparations in connection with slavery and its legacies makes sense. If embraced by Christians, it could be our way of witnessing that there is a break from a terrible past.
We also make restitution in personal ways in many circumstances. For some, it means going to those we have wronged and profusely apologizing because of the faith we now have. It could be a member of our family, a friend, a former employer or an employee. For others it may involve material compensation.
Thank you Lord for the free gift of salvation which we do not need to pay for.
Lord God show us ways in which we can show our gratitude to You through making restitution or righting the relationship or community wrongs that we have been part of.
Lord open our hearts to the leading of your Holy Spirit in our lives. Help us to willingly obey and walk in every way He leads, even toward a response in making restitution.
Lord we pray for people groups in the world including persons of African descent who have suffered injustice and continue to suffer injustice. We pray that Christians will be strong participants in Your actions in righting the wrongs.