This is bringing authenticity to counterfeit
This is God over politics
This is dignity to all
We the Father’s kids
This is biblical fidelity in scholarship
What good is my faith without compassion?
What good is my word and belief without action?
- Sho Baraka ft. Melissa T, March
Introductions tell us important things about a person. Someone introduces a speaker, performer or potential business partner to tell us why we should listen. When Jesus formally introduces himself to the world, he speaks in a way that expresses his commitment to establishing justice in the world. In doing so, he also amplifies the role that his followers have in committing to promoting a generous justice, working to restore broken people, repair broken systems–to renew our broken ways of privileging the powerful over the poor and helpless.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus’ introduction occurs at the beginning of his ministry as he stands up in a synagogue to read the prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-3. The passage points to his purpose as the Messiah (Hebrew for “anointed one”). Jesus states he is here to re-distribute dignity, justice, and prosperity in a way that eliminates injustice.
Jesus’ announcement acknowledges there’s rampant injustice to remedy. A cursory glance at the passage reveals two problems: spiritual oppression and physical oppression. Jesus identifies the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. What do these groups have in common? They all experience systemic adversity, particularly at the hands of the wealthy and powerful. Throughout Israel’s history, the wealthy exploited the poor in systematic ways despite God’s prohibitions. The practice of charging exploitative interest in financial transactions is one example of this systemic injustice.
You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)
Charging interest on food or money borrowed out of need takes advantage of the misfortunes of the person’s neighbor in hard times. This pattern creates great wealth for the lender who continued to make a profit and a cycle of poverty for the unfortunate person who has no choice but to borrow for survival. Predatory lending practices persist in our society, causing the colossal housing crisis across the United States in 2008. The Kingdom of the Messiah comes to declare the end of predatory practices that keep the “rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.” Jesus continues stating his commitment to the poor throughout his ministry (Luke 18: 1-8, Luke 8:47, Luke 14:16-24, Matthew 25:32-45). He announces that those who recognize their spiritual poverty can find redemption through Jesus’ sacrificial riches on the cross. Also, the socio-economically poor can find justice in him as he advocates on their behalf and establishes his reign on caring for those in the margins.
People in power have always used the criminal justice system as a weapon to punish and persecute those in opposition. An influential person accused Joseph wrongly, and he received a jail sentence because he would not yield to that person’s demands (Genesis 39:6-20). Daniel’s political rivals set him up for the death penalty to eliminate him as a threat (Daniel 6). In the New Testament, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and Silas all experience the injustice of being captives without a trial or fairness (Matthew 14:6-12, Acts 12:1-5, Acts 16:16-24). Unfortunately, the United States’ criminal justice system reflects this historical tendency of unjust outcomes. As Bryan Stevenson describes:
“Our criminal justice system treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent.”
Our system targets and punishes the poor and the marginalized at staggering rates. Though African Americans only make up 13% of the population, they make up 56% of the prison population. Though drug use is the same among white and black people in the United States, blacks are far more likely to be arrested for it. Jesus Christ suffered under injustice when he was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and then executed. Leading up to his death, Jesus spends his time spreading word that he has come to release those held captive to sin and sinful injustice.
When he first announces himself in the synagogue, Jesus declares he will provide healing of the body and soul. This statement flies in the face of conventional beliefs of the time that labeled poverty and sickness as curses. The masses mistreated the sick and afflicted by ignoring, avoiding, or exploiting them. Jesus, in contrast, will do neither. He does not demand payment for healing, he affirms the dignity of the sick, and instead of victim-blaming, he offers health-reclaiming. Of course, as he recovers the sight of the blind, he informs the shamers they are the ones with spiritual blindness” (John 9).
Jesus frees the oppressed in a host of other ways. Jesus restores the dignity and value of women whose image-bearing glory has been buried by oppression. He honors the social outcast, and proclaims that a day of the Lord is coming in which God will redistribute honor, power, and wealth–reversing the oppression of this world.
At the end of his ministry with the disciples, Jesus announces that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, his disciples will do greater works than he has (John 14:12). Jesus entrusts the legacy of establishing generous justice to those who follow him.
Promoting a generous justice as part of our call to be disciples. The prophet Micah preached this message:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and
to love mercy
and to walk humbly
with your God. (Micah 6:8)
God loves justice and hates injustice. We must see how God values justice if we want to cultivate the habit of promoting his kingdom throughout the earth.
Jesus outlined several primary places that we can start: poverty, criminal justice, and healthcare. The list stretches beyond these three, from serving the widow, and the orphan, to the immigrant–there are many issues on God’s heart. The more we can see where the problems are, the more we can “watch and pray,” (Luke 21:36) and act on behalf of the marginalized. This work also requires personal examination of ways we might be promoting these injustices ourselves.
Extend grace to those in need and those with greed. Ultimately, Jesus’ kingdom is characterized by grace and truth, justice and mercy, accountability and forgiveness. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world (though he had every right to), but he came to save the world (John 3:16-17). As his followers, we are called to be generous–not only to the marginalized but those who are marginalizing. We are to hold people accountable for their actions, while seeking reconciliation instead of retribution. The task requires supernatural ability that produces supernatural results, and we can trust God to provide both.
Practicing generous justice paves the way for redemption.
- How does God feel about justice, and how does it inform the way you consider justice?
- What injustice do you have a burden to address?
- What’s one thing you can do to practice the habit of generous justice?
- To get more information about how to be involved with Bridge Church’s Do Justice initiative, email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Rasool Berry
Edited by Christina Utley