26 February 2010

Social Justice

'The poor have come to save us...'

In the Bible there are almost 2,000 verses related to poverty, social justice and personal responsibility to act on them. God has a special interest in the welfare of those at the lowest end of the social ladder: the poor, widows, orphans, foreigners and the fatherless (Jeremiah 7:5-7). Could God be telling is something?

Proverbs 31:8-9
Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy
Generally, social justice has two key components:
Social – living together in communities or organised groups, and
Justice – the upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law

On Judgement Day, Jesus even mentions six everyday unexciting works either performed or neglected as the final prerequisite to enter Heaven. They were all remembered by Christ and had been treasured, worthy of mention on the final day where all accounts are settled. Both the righteous and unrighteous were amazed at how their everyday conduct meant so much that they had forgotten them entirely. It was these little tasks of day to day living Jesus says proved His true disciples.

Matthew 25:31-40
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.' Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? And the King will tell them, 'I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

To the heart of God, social justice is part of His character and His heartbeat for humanity. Every human being, especially society’s leaders, has a God-given moral duty to protect fellow human beings from social injustices whenever and wherever it is practical to do so (Proverbs 3:27-28). The prophets Amos and Micah spent much of their ministries condemning leaders in Israel for failing to practice social justice. They stressed that there was an integral relationship between true spirituality and social ethics.

For instance, Israel was condemned for committing another kind of “sodomy”; specifically, failing to help the poor and needy. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:44-50).

It is evident that pursuing social justice is one of the highest moral responsibilities of the church and for every single believer. The Rich man and Lazarus is yet another example of the seriousness and devastating consequences of those who forget the poor but had the resources to help them. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus speaks of an actual event where a rich man who lived in luxury and ignores the needs of a poor beggar who sits outside his gate everyday. Finally they both die with the rich man in hell and Lazarus in paradise...

James 2:14-17
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead.

Is this not a wake up call to every single person? What do you have that you can give right now? What resources, food, time, finances do you have? Or what serving, acts of kindness, volunteering, or encouraging words can you do today? God keeps records in Heaven and knows all things and all hearts. Nothing given in secret will ever be forgotten. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The prophets' main judgments were leveled against idolatry and social injustice. The living God insists on personal morality and social justice, while idols offer fertility and prosperity without social responsibility.

I just gave away money I don't have, for people I've never met, for a God I love very much – Anonymous

Jesus criticised and disobeyed laws when they got in the way of helping people. Religion and government were intermixed, so Jesus challenged the law of the land. This threat Jesus posed to both religious and political authorities led to his crucifixion.

Jeremiah 22:3
Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

God isn't a conservative; he's a revolutionary. He not only takes the side of the poor; he puts Himself in their place. In the very alarming parable of the sheep and the goats he speaks of salvation as depending on how we treat the poorest and the most afflicted.

According to Pharisaical opinion Jesus should have come as a lord, a tycoon, a cult leader. Some of his followers today feel as though Jesus should have been, but Jesus came as a poor man. There are all sorts of meaning in that, but at the very least we can say that Jesus takes the issue of poverty personally. A church or a nation that ignores its poor or places stumbling blocks in their way, whose supreme good is money, is very far from the heart of God.

For God so loved the world, that He took a closer look through the eyes of a carpenter’s son so He could associate with the poor. And perhaps it may be true, the poor have come to save us…

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