Principles of Justice

Jesus and Justice

When we look at the life of Jesus, we find a person whose sole purpose was to bring those around Him closer to His heavenly Father. In looking to His example, we see a life which was wholly committed to bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. In reflecting on His example as portrayed through the Gospels, we can find practical examples how we should treat others. The International Social Justice Commission’s Resource, Jesus and Justice, (available for download on the ISJC’s website) presents four principles which can be seen through the way Jesus lived. It observes that in His dealings with others, Jesus consistently included the excluded, challenged cultural practices, confronted the powerful and advocated for the oppressed[1].

Including the Excluded

The experience of being excluded is one which is not easily forgotten. In a society where the goal of many is to be well-liked (as is often seen in the quest for “friends” on social media), being forgotten or left behind are some of the most powerful and hurtful feelings that can be experienced.

In Jesus’ day, there was no question as to who the social outsiders were. Lepers were not only excluded from society, but were forced to yell “unclean, unclean” on the rare occasion that someone approached them (Leviticus 13:45-6). The level to which a person suffering from leprosy was excluded was great, and the humiliation associated with contracting the disease must have been traumatic. Yet when Jesus came across lepers, as recorded in Matthew 8, he did not turn his back and choose to associate with the “clean” members of the crowd. Instead, Jesus touched the leper, skin-to-skin, in front of the entire crowd. Not only did Jesus recognize the man as a person, he did so in front of a large group of people. Similarly in Mark 1, Jesus’ conversation with another leper saw him “moved with pity” (Luke 1:40), not with the disgust and discomfort which the man would have experienced from other members of society.

Today’s lepers are not always as visible. There are groups of people within society who are systemically excluded and at times, this exclusion hides itself so well that we don’t even notice it. Yet day after day, individuals and sometimes groups are excluded for a variety of reasons – such as financial status, race, religion, sexual orientation, even citizenship status. At times, the Church itself falls into the trap of failing to recognise, and worse still, perpetuating such exclusion. Yet Jesus’ example shows us a different model. The blatantly excluded were not only shown pity, but were recognised by Jesus as people equal to all others.

Challenging Cultural Practices

As much as we may hate to admit it, we all adhere to an often unarticulated set of social norms and rules. In order to take part in society, each person allows themselves to be guided by those around them in the way they do life day to day. Those who choose to ignore these social norms and cultural practices often become the socially excluded discussed previously.

In Jesus’ day, the concept of racism and corresponding social status was widely accepted. The Samaritans, an ethno-religious group, did not associate with Jews, and vice versa.

While at times it can be believed that racism is a thing of the past, particularly in a country like Australia, the truth is that this is a problem still experienced by many on a day-to-day basis. Be it through explosive, public protests or subtle, insinuated jokes between friends, racism is a negative, shameful part of the lives of many. Racism is but one example of cultural practices which have become widely accepted over time.

Jesus was not oblivious to the socially ordered racial and religious caste system. He came into contact with it every day and, rather than ignoring it, used it to model and explain how his followers should treat others. Jesus’ use of ethno-religious groups in The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) showed his challenging of cultural practices. Jesus clearly indicated that the most important factor in this Parable was the man’s unfortunate situation, not the religion or the race of those passing. Similarly through his interaction with the Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42), he laughed in the face of social norms and accepted cultural practices.

Jesus recognized a socially-accepted norm and challenged it, using it instead as a tool for teaching and demonstrating a new way of behaving and thinking

Confronting the Powerful

Consistently throughout history, the concept of holding power over another is one which has caused humans to behave contrary to their better judgment and good nature. Power can manifest itself in various ways, and “the powerful” is often difficult to identify. In some cases, the government is the powerful; in other cases, the media. On a smaller scale, an oppressive boss or a difficult friend can be “the powerful”. Jesus’ life presents to us a model through which “the powerful” is boldly confronted. Jesus’ behavior disturbed and infuriated the religious elite – the Pharisees and the Scribes. They were a well-educated, respected, confident and authoritative group – they were the “powerful” of the day who not only held religious authority, but operated the Jewish court system also[2]. Jesus’ behaviour and words consistently saw him openly criticize this group and their social structure. He questioned society’s blind acceptance of their teaching and encouraged a new way of thinking and behaving – much to the religious elite’s anger and dismay. Despite the risks to his own reputation and personal safety, Jesus challenged their authority through the way he chose to live.

Advocating for the Oppressed

Oppression, like power, comes in many forms. Those with whom we come into contact can find themselves oppressed by financial burdens, sickness, social expectation, love of money, mental illness, relationship problems – just to name a few. As believers, we are not immune to being oppressed ourselves. While in Jesus’ day oppression was most blatantly seen in the demon-possessed, today’s burdens can have an equally oppressive nature. Jesus identified the problems which were oppressing those in his time and freed them from such oppression (Mark 1:22-34). This included both spiritual oppression and the physical causes of oppression such as blindness, leprosy, paralysis etc. While we may not always be able to free those around us from the things oppressing them, we can do what we can and simultaneously point them toward the One who can – Jesus himself.

Conclusion

Jesus’ lifestyle – his choices every day – modeled a life of social justice. As His disciples today, we must follow this example in our own context. By understanding the principles by which Jesus lived, we can begin to understand a little of how God’s Kingdom on earth may look. We hope and pray that this site will help empower you to live these crucial kingdom principles, and that through the power of the Holy Spirit your community will be changed into one that honours God and sees his justice proclaimed.

[1] Jesus and Justice p. 4

[2] Jesus and Justice p. 39

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