Though many people see love and justice as being at odds, we reflected last time on the deep connection between the two. The Bible’s command to “Love your neighbor” is, in its context, a summary statement about a series of commands about “doing the right thing,” particularly for those in need, affected by disability, or vulnerable.
Jesus was asked to unpack this command to love one’s neighbor. He responds with a famous parable – at the conclusion of which he poses (you guessed it) a question: Which of these three do you think was neighbor to the robber’s victim?
Of course…, the “Good Samaritan” was the “neighbor.” Few of us have sufficient dealings with actual Samaritans to feel the punch the story packed when Jesus told it. Without going into detail, let’s just say that, today, it might better be told (depending on what “orthodoxy” the hearer adheres to) as the “story of the Good ISIS member” or “the Good KKK dude” or the “Good LGBT activist.”
Setting that aside, though, Jesus’ illustration of what it means to love our neighbor leaves us with a somewhat messy theology of justice. This respectable, religiously pious lawyer clearly feels the inescapable reality of his obligation to his neighbor. Being smart, he knows the first thing to do is find some loopholes.
But Jesus doesn’t bite. His rejoinder, basically, is: OK, you know it. So what? Live it!
It’s interesting that Jesus opens his response with the story of a messed-up situation: a guy beaten, robbed, disabled and left for dead, … but no explanation of how the situation got that way.
Why not? How it got messed up doesn’t matter. Since that backstory could provide the loopholes that the lawyer (to whom the story is being told) is seeking, this is more than an accidental omission… By the time we show up, history isn’t an issue.
What is the issue is how we deal with the mess in which we find people. How many times regarding AIDS, homelessness, immigration, poverty, addiction – even disability – have I heard questions being asked about “how” or “why…” as if to somehow… implicate them, help me divide the guilty from the innocent? (How did you get infected? What were you wearing to the party? What bad decisions did you make?)
What do we think when we encounter a messy or messed-up situation? What goes on in the mind of a priest or a Levite or an evangelical preacher or a ReachGlobal missionary, who sees the mess and says, “I’m not gonna touch this”?
- You must’ve sinned. You somehow deserve this. You brought it on yourself… (The basic message of Job’s “friends”)
- Well, God moves in mysterious ways… (Speak a platitude and move along. To which St. James says, “Get a clue…”)
- We’re living in the Last Days, what do you expect? (This somehow gives us a pass?)
- I’m afraid I don’t know enough, I don’t have what it takes to fix it. What can I do? Maybe I’ll make things worse… (Excuses, excuses.)
Jesus’ bottom line: NONE of these are loving our neighbor. None of these reflect a heart of justice.
Frankly, I wonder whether issues of God’s justice aren’t calling us into a new battle against theological liberalism. This is ironic, since there is a certain skepticism about some formulations of “justice,” because they are seen as being “liberal” and, thus, problematical.
A century ago “theological liberalism” jettisoned solid, biblical views of the person of Christ and the truth and nature of Scripture in order to accommodate a “modern” culture that privileged Reason over “superstition” and Freedom over “authority.”
We see today new forms of accommodation to culture that have, in my lifetime, enshrined as “evangelical” aspects of a culture of unbridled personal choice, rampant individualism, materialism and consumerism. Regardless of the merits or lack thereof of such a culture, it is neither reflective of Scripture, nor even of the cultural values of many in the world (including, nowadays, the majority of evangelical believers in the world, who are not “westerners”).
This theological neo-liberalism masks itself as conservative, but seeks to relativize what Scripture says about the mandate to do justice, to honor God by properly valuing the objects of his love, the bearers of His image. It does so by taking aspects of the “spirit of our age” as basic and non-negotiable. Not by refusing to believe the “supernatural” or hew to a (or any) tradition. But by refusing to allow our commitment to things like comfort, upward mobility, market share, life-style, material acquisition, consumerism, constant economic expansion, national security, faith in the ultimate wisdom of “the markets” and personal “actualization” to be challenged by God’s demands clearly revealed in Scripture.
We love justice because we love God. Our walk with God informs our pursuit of justice, not the other way around. Our desire to see the Bride of Christ made strong and beautiful is the heartbeat that drives our engagement with the world, not the other way around.
This is the fifth and final post in a series that begins here.