Faith, Social Justice

The True Sign of Gospel Faith: Doing Justice

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the immigrant*, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” -Zechariah 7:9-10

Justice. Mercy. Kindness. Righting the wrongs of the world. This has always been on the heart of the Lord and has been his ambition from the beginning. The quartet of the vulnerable, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor, are those who God constantly reminds us for whom justice is due. They are those who are systematically and consistently oppressed and whose rights have been removed. God does not call us to see that they are treated equitably. No. That’s not enough. He wants to see them receive justice and requires that we, his people, administer it.

When you think of injustice, to what do you think? Where does your mind go? If there’s one thing that westernism has imprinted on our collective personalities, it’s individualism. Because to us injustice usually operates in the individual. We tend to believe that it’s our individual choices that lead to injustice in our own lives and don’t tend to acknowledge or want to believe that there are communal, systematic injustices working against large groups of people. If someone wants to get out of the projects and off of government assistance then they need to pull up their bootstraps, get a job and make better choices. The same is believed for the immigrant needing to integrate into the larger culture. They need to learn English, take off the hijab, and, again, get a job. Actually, many of us believe that the answer to injustice, if we actually even believe that there is injustice, lies in getting a job. As if working is the magic bullet against oppression. Well, perhaps it is.

Throughout scripture, God continually and directly instructs his people to administer justice to the quartet of the vulnerable. The work to end oppression is not in question here. It is directly required by God. And it is not an individual effort; God does not expect individual people to pull themselves out of their vulnerable positions. That would be cruel and ineffective. But rather, God expects communities of people, including and especially his own, to actively work to right oppression and to administer justice. And all of a sudden the finger is pointed directly at us and we must consider if we are the ones who are not working to right the wrongs of the world and are instead insisting that others do it themselves.

Why might this be? Why might we be so prone to not see the faces and hear the voices of those who have been wronged? When we do see them, why then do we loathe victims of oppression and injustice? Why do we wrongly cast blame and instead focus on our own perceived injustices? Why is it so hard for us to see our places in systems of injustice and to acknowledge the requirement that God gives his people to administer justice?

I have a few theories that come from beliefs that many theologians and philosophers have chewed on and offered over the centuries. Nicholas Wolterstorff believes that: “Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the fear of what we would have to do if we genuinely saw and heard; so we block out the sight and muffle the sound. And sometimes our frameworks of conviction lead us to discount the significance of what we see and hear. We regard the one before us as a candidate for charity, should we be so inclined; or we insist that his condition is his own fault. We resist acknowledging that the presence of the other before us places claim on us, issues to us a call to do justice.”

And so here we are. Resistant to God’s call to administer justice to the vulnerable in one way or another.

In Matthew 25 Jesus gives us a picture of what it looks like to have the sign of true gospel faith. The picture should startle us.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” 
-Matthew 25:35-40

The Christian community is one that Jesus says invites in, takes care of, feeds, clothes, and visits. It is a community that relentlessly pursues the vulnerable and cares for them. Why? Why is this the community that God has created us to be? Well, because it’s who he is. Look to the incarnate Son of God and to cross if you wonder why. He became poor, hungry, thirsty, a stranger, a prisoner, and naked! This is how far God is willing to go to identify with the most vulnerable of the world: He became vulnerable and he did it for us, the spiritually poor and bankrupt. And he makes it perfectly clear that when we care for those in our midst who are poor and vulnerable, we are caring for him. When we see the beauty of how the gospel embodies the care for the vulnerable through Jesus, it will come spilling out from inside of us and compel us to respond to God’s call for us to administer justice. It’s a call to serve our Lord. It’s the sign of true gospel faith.

If you feel convicted and compelled to give your time and resources to an organization that is working to administer justice to the immigrants in our midsts, please consider contacting and giving to the following organizations:

Carry the Future
Reestablish Richmond
Commonwealth Catholic Charities
We Welcome Refugees
Outreach Africa, Inc.

As the gospel moves you to faith, please consider how evangelism and social justice go hand in hand. What is it that you don’t believe about the gospel? How have you failed to love those around you with a complete understanding and embodiment of the gospel? To love our neighbors and our communities is to share the gospel of grace and to help them with their pressing needs. Showing Christ’s love is both physical and spiritual. To only evangelize and fail to meet the needs of those around us is to fail to show the completeness of Christ’s beauty. Because Christ embodies both. The gospel embodies both. And so too must we.

*I am following Tim Keller’s footsteps and translating the Hebrew word gare as “immigrant” rather than alien or sojourner. Modern American readers don’t really use those terms and they fall flat to us. The word gare means “outsider living in our midst.” To the modern reader, that is translated as immigrant. So, that’s the word that I use.

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