i recently wrote a paper for class about social justice and the implementation to stop gang violence for the local church. this is the first section.
a theology of social justice.
It has come to my understanding that “social justice” may be a rather confusing term for the world and the church. The fact that over 160 million hits result on google when “social justice” is searched shows that the subject is important, but perhaps vague. I look then to world leaders who have lived a life of justice. There is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. But there must be no greater leader than Jesus Christ. Jesus, who was Lord and leader of all things, can surely point me to an understanding of social justice that is both clear and instructional.
I have long since read in the Bible the acts of justice our Jesus lived out in his lifetime. He was a man who inspired and breathed life into everyone around him. He breathed a new kind of air. A just kind of air. A breath unlike that of the kings and the judges and religious leaders of that day who maybe ruled with sovereignty but did not rule with grace. Verses like James 1:5 and stories like the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 have supported my understanding of justice in the scriptures and justice in ‘Jesus-terms.’ For the Christian, everything is seen in light of Jesus and his teaching or ministry.
But I have recently realized in my own arrogance just how truly great and powerful the life of Jesus is within the justice conversation. It is because Jesus had compassion that drove a healing solution toward the poor (the impoverished and the impoverished in spirit). Jim Wallis says, “…any gospel that isn’t good news to the poor simply isn’t the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is a good news, a great news, for the poor. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a credo for compassion for the eyes of the heart.
Like Jim Wallis says in his book The Great Awakening, I believe justice must begin with compassion through a relationship with the poor. In Luke 7:36-45, Jesus reclined at the table of Simon, the Pharisee, when a prostitute came to weep on his feet, wipe the tears with her hair, and pour perfume on him. Immediately, the Pharisees who were there judged Jesus. “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (verse 39). Simon watches all that is happening and Jesus asks him if he sees the woman. Simon, indeed saw the woman, but the problem was that he had seen her for all of her sins and her worthlessness to be in his home. Jesus saw the woman through the eyes of his heart. He saw her with grace and mercy and he forgave her of her sins.
I believe that compassion begins when we start to see with the eyes of our hearts. It is impossible to obtain compassion through the eyes. Compassion can only come through the heart, the eyes of the heart. Shannon Kapp, an admired pastor of mine, always says that there will be “people in this world who will never know Jesus unless you or I tell them. People in this world who will never know the love of God unless you or I show them. How will a lost and hurting world know that the head loves them unless the arms embrace them?” Jesus lived a life of compassion and preached a gospel of social justice (Sermon on the Mount, Feeding of the Five Thousand, Matthew 23:23). I believe if Jesus were walking on earth today, he would again preach the timeless message of justice.
Social justice is a huge part of my heart and a huge part of God’s heart. I believe that if we understand the scriptural story of the life of Jesus in light of the justice conversation, social justice will be a huge part of the church’s heart too. Erwin McManus says, “when we dream of a better world, we become better people.” Dreaming of a better community is the first step in dreaming of a better world.