In the many discussions we have about the meaning of Scripture as Christians, I sometimes wonder if we make out Jesus’ teaching to be way more complicated than they actually are. The area of Jesus’ teaching where this primarily occurs, is in social justice.
Among Christians I frequently hear people emphasize how amazing it is that Jesus spent his time with the outcaste and the sinners, the orphans and the widows. Then I take another sip of my Starbucks coffee and remark on the cost of the tuition at my private Christian university. I think sometimes Jesus’ physical and tangible actions are taken today as a spiritual message rather than actions that should be replicated.
When I survey the Christian communities that I have traveled through over the past few years, I see varying degrees of participation in social justice. There are those that give generously of their money, at select times like Christmas. Then there are those helping serve in the Church among Christians on Sundays. Next there are those who also are committed to monthly or weekly volunteering outside of the Christian community, with those who may be more marginalized in society. All of these roles are needed and are contributing to the Kingdom on earth.
But I believe there is a life of social justice that God is calling his children into, which is much deeper and more holistic.
The notion of social justice as a lifestyle rings out in passages like Isaiah 58. The author writes to those returning from exile in Babylon. A group who are frustrated that God is not near to them.
“‘Why have we fasted and you see it not? / Why have we humbled ourselves and you take no knowledge of it?’” (v. 2b)
I love how God never discourages his people from calling out to him and asking him why he is not present. Rather he answers them by asking a question: Are rituals, worship services, and spiritual behaviour what pleases me most?
Instead, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (v. 6-7).
Powerful. A life of social justice infiltrates the workplace and spreads through the community. Most importantly, a life of justice is in the home. The greatest solidarity among mankind is experienced through the sharing of a meal together. To embrace justice as a church, we must bring into our home the awkward, the mentally ill, the ones that smell bad, that don’t speak our language, and who are not of our socio-political standing. In the last verse the author tells the people not to hide themselves from their own flesh. In other words, we are all of equal worth in God’s eyes. If we believe that to be true, it should effect the way we treat all people.
When we do this, our God promises for us:
“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, And your healing shall spring up speedily; Your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer: Here I am.” (v. 8-9).
Theologian Gustavo Gutierrez writes: “You say you care about the poor? Then tell me, what are their names?”
Justice can be that simple. Look at the poor in the eye, ask them their name. Sit down for coffee with them. Perhaps they’re not that much different than you.
Perhaps they could be your friend.