A Jesus I Can Follow #3. Prophet of Social Justice

One of the perplexing things about Jesus is that he critiques the Pharisees for neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness, but appears to do the same himself. Mercy? Yes he has that in spades. Faithfulness? You can tick that box too. But justice? If justice is getting what you deserve, whether reward for doing good or punishment for doing evil, it is remarkably absent from the ministry of Jesus. Or so it seems until you look a little closer.

A number of scholars point out that in the biblical traditions justice is wider and deeper than retribution. Justice is God acting to liberate people from situations of evil and oppression, whether they deserve it or not.

Understood this way Jesus oozes justice. Every time he exorcised those oppressed by demons, healed the disabled who were condemned to a life of poverty, defended women from angry men or affirmed their decision to defy the demands of the patriarchal household in favour of the kingdom of God; every time he touched a leper, offered welcome to an ostracised woman or a hated tax collector, forgave the sins of those excluded by the purity system, he was doing justice.

And like the prophets of the Old Testament, he didn’t merely liberate at the personal level, he named the oppressors and challenged their power. So we see him repeatedly confronting Satan, the rich, the powerful, the religious leaders. He routs the demonic; declares woe upon the rich, who almost always got rich by gobbling up the land of the poor, and calls them to repentance; denounces the religious leaders for their exploitation of widows, marginalisation of the vulnerable, and the impossible burdens they place on others; attacks the temple as a place that has become a center for exploitation and marginalisation from God’s forgiveness.

And he sets about crafting an alternate community built on the values of faith, welcome, grace, forgiveness, equality, generosity, hospitality. In this new community there is a return to the economics of jubilee, interest free loans and debt forgiveness; an embrace of the social outcast; forgiveness, both divine and human.

This Jesus inspires me.

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