Saturday, March 12, 2011

Can I Love God Apart From Loving Justice?

"While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted."
Flannery O'Conner

There is no doubt that the church (all Christianity) is haunted by Jesus as it struggles, more than ever, to be relevant in the modern world and its web of inter-relationships and conflicts arising from the pressing anxieties of politics, economics, freedom and justice.

Two percent of the world's population hoard 98% of the world's wealth and resources. The church strives to be relevant to the world in need, where 98% people who populate the world struggle to share the remaining 2% of wealth.

In the eyes of the suffering world, the church struggles to be more than buffoonish caricatures of cynical moralists. The church struggles with sharing political allegiances with the wealthiest and most powerful portions of the society, while ignoring the oppression and violence of poverty on the poor.

Homelessness, starvation, lack of even meager healthcare abound, and where is the church?

Where am I? Am I Christ-haunted or Christ-centered?

Poverty is not a natural state. Poverty is created, intentionally and willfully, by humans upon humans. Poverty is not a matter of fate, it is a predisposition of domination by humans over humans. The hoarding of wealth and resources is not natural, it is like any other hoarding, a sickness.

Poverty is violence upon the people of God's creation.

The Old Testament prophets condemned the priests, rulers and wealthy of ancient Israel for abusing and ignoring the suffering of the poor, the sick and helpless. The Prophets condemned them for misleading the people, equating wealth as proof of righteousness and of having God's favor.

Jesus did likewise. Jesus also ridiculed his disciples for their concerns for themselves over their serving the needs of the suffering.

As Jesus is spending his last night together with his disciples, Matthew reports an argument breaks out among the disciples over who is to be the greatest among them, who will be most righteous, most blessed, who will be closest to Jesus. Sound familiar? It does to me. So many claim to hold God's favor over and against others, because of practices or abstinences, or because they claim God hates fleshy vices more than their own particular vices, or that Jesus hates certain people over others... are they reading the Gospel?

In Matthew Jesus rebukes the disciples not only for their petty self-interests, but for still missing again the point of his earthly mission to direct us towards justice, God's justice, for all people. Because we are called to love God in loving each other, to love the world as he does, we are called to provide justice. What is justice in Jesus's directive to us?

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells his squabbling followers a prophetic story where the just, the righteous, receive their reward. Not so surprising, the just being rewarded. But what is very interesting to me, being raised in the western Christ-haunted church, catholic and protestant, dominated by sexually obsessed Augustinian, Lutheran and Calvinist moralistic theology, is this: Jesus makes no mention of morality as a factor for the rewards of the righteous.

What also is of great interest, and even funny, is that the just who he calls to paradise are surprised to be receiving a reward! Jesus tells them they are being rewarded for caring for him. They ask when did we care for you? Jesus tells them that by the care they provided to the poor, sick, friendless and needy was in truth their giving care to God, that by loving "the least of these", they loved God. They didn't even know it. This is the first surprise.

The second surprise is this, their acts of love weren't done so to gain a reward. They were surprised at being rewarded. Remember, they asked when did we care for you? The just weren't caring for the poor in hopes of a reward, the just simply acted with justice towards those suffering the injustice of poverty. They acted justly because it is the loving thing to do, they loved through being Christ-centered. Loving is being Christ-centered.

The Prophets and Jesus make clear to me that my true worship and sacrifice, my faithfulness, are in the living of God's loving justice for the world. How do I call myself a follower of Jesus if I don't take him seriously when I know him to say, "Whatever you do to others, even the poorest of people, you do to me?"

The challenge before me is to serve the suffering. Like Jesus, I must make petty morality the last concern and put the ending of suffering, Jesus' ethical center of me, at front and center of my concerns.

This is the calling. This is the practical functional call to answer the world's suffering injustice. God is calling us to answer the call to love God through loving the suffering. Do I then respond to God's love call by more deeply loving the world? Do I demand my political leaders to answer God's call for justice? Surely I must.

This is the agape ethic of Jesus, the tangible centering of Christ, to love God in loving each other. This is for me God's call to justice, to care for those who are suffering the legion injustices of poverty. For me, for my Christianity to have any real bearing on the world, I must answer God's call to love kindness and justice, the call to live God's justice for the poor of the world. God is calling us to relevance.

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