20th of February- World Day of Social Justice
Today is World Day of Social Justice. In 2007, the United Nations declared that February 20th would be devoted to “promoting efforts of the international community to poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equity and access to social well-being for all.” That last bit seems to sum up anything else that may have fallen through the cracks in their description. Social well-being may be interpreted differently among the myriad of factions dwelling in the world today, but how does this specifically apply to those that claim to be followers of Jesus?
Often labeled as a liberal agenda when translated into policy and political stances on issues, social justice can come with a weighty label within some Christian communities, especially evangelicals. What has become yet another way in which the Church has the tendency to become polarized, I would suggest that our faith aptly addresses issues of social justice and what our role as followers of Jesus within that context looks like.
A brief overview of the Gospel would suggest that social justice is not something that happens in addition to preaching salvation, but rather that the Gospel is indeed a proclamation of freedom for all, and it necessitates our de facto involvement in a life of social justice. Further, a Gospel that has been presented as a matter simply pertaining to heaven and hell is not much of the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed. Luke 4:18-19 gives a more holistic picture of what things will look like when the Kingdom of God situates itself among us. Broken things are made new, the blind are receiving sight, the deaf are hearing. Gone are the days of disease and sickness, those living in captivity are freed, and the favor of God is with man. The Kingdom of God is an active force in our present society that requires those that are citizens within it to be agents of reconciliation, restoration and peace, not simply messengers of the afterlife. Jesus was quite concerned with matters both physical and spiritual as we can see throughout His ministry. His interactions with people on the fringes of society must prompt us, as followers of Him, to step in this world in a similar manner. Countless examples of Jesus first-hand dealing with those on the margins are documented in the Scriptures. The woman caught in adultery, the lepers, the Samaritan woman, the diseased, and even his own disciples (John 8:1-11; Matthew 8:1-3; John 4:1-26; Matthew 4:18-25) to name a few. People on the fringes of society or of no exceptional status were the ones that Jesus seemed to spend much of His life living, walking and ministering among.
At some point followers of Jesus seemed to divert from this kind of active, inclusive lifestyle and into a stale belief system that has become stagnant and unmoving. Some followers of Jesus have contributed to the cycles of injustice, war and dehumanization by adhering to beliefs that have removed themselves from the person of Jesus. Too often Jesus is relegated to the position of Manager of Afterlife Affairs, where His life on earth and His active ministry in relieving oppression and setting people free is simply glossed over. I would imagine that Jesus looks at his Church, and with the gentle boldness He exhibited while among us in the flesh, urge us to move forward with more fortitude in leading a life that emulates His. Jesus was far more present, active and concerned with the structures and systems of injustice facing humanity than He was about getting someone to pray a prayer that gave their life over to him without requiring sacrifice and wholehearted commitment to living a kingdom way of life (Matthew 19:27-30; 1 John 3). I would suggest that our direct involvement with “the least of these” is the immediate telltale sign of our kingdom citizenship (Matthew 25:31-40).
If Jesus came to bring us life and life to the fullest (John 10:10), do we not suppose that as His Body here on earth (Ephesians 1:20-23), that we are to carry out that same mission? Our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to emulate the life and teachings of God. Perhaps more than jumping on the bandwagon of the latest social justice train, we diligently commit to lives that actively embrace those that are being oppressed, marginalized and excluded. Even more precisely, let us look at the ways in which our lives don’t emulate Jesus within our interpersonal relationships. If we hope to harness a vast compassion that includes society from the margins inward, it must begin in our daily relationships with those around us. No amount of our advocacy and screaming at the powers that be will show God’s love if it is not first a daily way of life that then is expanded into our other spheres of influence. Allowing the love of Jesus to take root deep within our hearts allows the fortitude of a lifestyle that simply encapsulates social justice because the Kingdom of God inherently addresses these issues of inequality, oppression and injustice.
Let us begin on this World Day of Social Justice, to recommit to a way of living like Jesus. May we begin to take steps that eventually lead into a lifelong journey of stepping in the love, grace and justice that Jesus modeled to us.