Newton Knight is a nurse in the confederate army in the American civil war who becomes disillusioned and flees the fighting. Forced to leave his wife, child and home he forms a company of renegades, who live in the swamps and fight against the corrupt Confederate militia, who have been stealing food and goods from the local families. They start to make some territorial gains and to spur the men on, Newton makes this speech.
However, this battle against corruption and injustice is going to be a long one, one that will last way after Newton and his fighters are gone. Every so often the action jumps forward 85 years to a courtroom where the fight for equality goes on. This is no quick fix, no easy overnight solution. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, God is with those who long for justice.’ Certainly Newton longed for a better time. A time when everyone would be recognised as a free child of God.
‘You cannot own a Child of God.’ One of the things we often forget about the giving of the Ten Commandments is that they were God’s definition of true humanity, bestowed upon a people who had been slaves all their lives in Egypt. They had been treated as property, not as people. They had been owned. They didn’t know what it was to live as free people. As children of God, with integrity, compassion and respect for their heavenly father and each other. No one had yet shown them this. That’s partly what the commandments were about, showing the people God’s priorities, rather than the priorities of a corrupt society, reliant on cruel slavery. Often when things go wrong in the Bible the people go back to the creation story, and the reminder that their God made them and cares for them. ‘When I look at the stars in the vast night sky I wonder – what are people that you should care for us?’ The psalmist writes in Psalm 8. And yet God does care. This compassionate creator, who knows and understands us. His love expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. ‘As a father is kind to his children, so great is his love for those who fear him.’ Psalm 103 v 13.
Centuries after the Ten Commandments were given the people came to the prophet Micah and asked him how they could best worship God. ‘You know already,’ he said with a sigh, ‘I’ve told you before. Mercy, humility and justice – weave those into your living and you will be honouring the God who loves those things.’ (Micah 6 v 8) When Jesus walked into town he began to demonstrate those things in his living, miracle working, relationships and storytelling. Justice, mercy and humility. These things really matter to the living God. Blessed are those who hunger for justice.