Jesus, The Prophets, and Social Justice

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matthew 5.13)

Salt-less salt. Stop and think about that for a minute. When salt was harvested from the ancient salt sea, the rocks of salt would be gathered with various and sundry other white colored rocks. They would then be placed in a cloth and used during cooking. Over time, the salt would dissolve through the cloth and only the non-water-soluble rocks would remain. Eventually the salt sack would lose its saltiness and be good for nothing more than common road gravel.

For those who claim to be followers of Jesus, what does it mean to lose their salt?

In referring to the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Ron Dart, professor of Political Science at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, says: “This text represents the distillation of the entire Jewish prophetic vision and supplies the ethical core and center for all Christianity. We must not ignore, domesticate, sanitize, or censure this Magna Carta of our faith.”

Dart is absolutely right to connect Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-7 with the ancient Jewish prophets. Jesus came to usher in the age that all the prophets looked forward to. Remember, as we shared last week, the hope of the Hebrew people was not of gaining some Hellenistic postmortem heaven or escaping “Hell.” The Hebrew people looked forward with hope to a time when the Messiah would come and put an end to all injustice, oppression, and violence. The prophets pointed to a time when politics would no longer be dependent upon violence (The lion would lay down with the lamb), economics would no longer be driven by greed (Justice would roll down like a river), and religion would no longer be rooted in fear (You will call me your Husband and no longer your Master).

Notice the following words from the early Church:

Acts 13.32, 33: “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus”.

Romans 15.8: “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs…”

2 Corinthians 1.20: “For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.”

Abraham Heschel wrote: “What is history? Wars, victories, and wars. So many dead. So many tears. So little regret. So many fears… The world is drenched in blood, and the guilt is endless. Should not all hope be abandoned? What saved the prophets from despair was their messianic vision and the idea of man’s capacity for repentance… History is not a blind alley, and guilt is not an abyss. There is always a way that leads out of guilt . . . The prophet is a person who, living in dismay, has the power to transcend his dismay. Over all the darkness of experience hovers the vision of a different day.”

Last January, as my mother was passing away in a hospital in Virginia, I was stuck in British Columbia trying desperately to get home. God, knowing my emotional state, arranged for my path to cross with Brad Jersak’s. Brad is an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine whom I met when God sent him to sit and pray with me at a coffee shop in Abbottsford while I was losing my mom. Needless to say, Brad will personally and forever hold a special place in my heart over and above the theological contributions I feel he most definitely has to offer with his insights about the Kingdom. In his book, Can You Hear Me? Tuning In to the God Who Speaks, Brad makes a thrilling comment about the prophets, when he writes: “The prophets have dirty hands (and mouths too sometimes), because you’ll find them wading without apology through the mess of life. Their target audience begins with the church and its religious leaders but extends to nations and heads of state and to corporations with their economic power brokers. They have unabashed social agendas and are not afraid of being perceived as political. Their concern is for the oppressed, the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the enslaved. The mature prophets call for both personal righteousness and social justice. They retreat inward in contemplation then explode onto the public scene as spokespersons for God’s heart and as advocates for the downtrodden.”

What I love about that statement is that Brad (and I don’t know whether he does it intentionally or by inspired accident) taps into the three sacrificial systems we have been looking at over the past view weeks: 1) political systems dependent upon violence, 2) economics driven by greed, and 3) religion driven by fear. Go back and reread the quote from Brad presented in the previous paragraph. The prophets (in harmony with Jesus) confronted the Caiaphases (religious leaders), the Pilates (nations and heads of state) and Herods (corporations and their economic power brokers) of their day, announcing that a new age was coming. A new age that has arrived in Jesus.

Isaiah 1.12-17: “When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you</I>, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies</I>. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice [restorative], <I>encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow</I>” (emphasis added).
Micah 6.8: “He has shown all you people 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.”

Amos 5.23-24: “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never–failing stream!”

Those who follow Jesus as the culmination of this prophetic tradition must, like the prophets of old, find their own hearts beating for justice for the oppressed, and mercy, rather than sacrifice, expressing itself daily through humble servant love. As the prophets pointed to an age here on Earth that would commence with the coming of the Messiah, we point backwards, if you will, saying Jesus is that Messiah, and the New Age promised by the prophets has already begun! If the prophets tell us anything, they tell us that you cannot authentically listen to God for long without also sensing that justice, mercy, and compassion are central to Him and His Kingdom.

This past week, a friend of mine on Facebook, a man named Andrew Rester, whom I feel I have traded places with (he actually used to be a student of mine when I taught school, but now I am learning from him), posted this insightful question on his wall:

“How different would Christianity and even the world be if Christ-followers started taking Matthew 5-7 as seriously as we try to make unbelievers take the first 3 chapters of Genesis?”

Brad Jersak goes on to say in the same chapter, “Don’t look for the mature prophets in the third heaven. (See 2 Corinthians 12.) You won’t find them there. You’ll find them here, ministering mercy to those overwhelmed by grief.”

And I would be quick to add to that Jersak’s words apply not only prophets, but to all followers of Jesus.

Bono, lead singer of U2, the Irish rock group from Dublin, said it best: “To me, faith in Jesus Christ that is not aligned with social justice, that is not aligned with the poor—it’s nothing.”

What group of people is Jesus placing on your heart this week?

Let’s be salt that hasn’t lost its saltiness.

HeartGroup Application

I want to ask you do to something special this week. I want you to find some quiet time to simply sit with Jesus and ask Him to share with you about His love for this world. Give Jesus permission to share with you His own grief about the misery and injustice He sees in this world. But when He does, remember, He is not sharing it with you to lay a guilt trip on you. It’s not all about you. Friendship with Jesus must go both ways. Don’t take what He shares in such a way that it will paralyze you with guilt. I want you to feel Jesus’ grief, experience Jesus’ comfort, share Jesus’ hope, and follow Jesus into action.

1) Pray this way:

“Jesus, would you please take me deep enough into your heart to sense your concern for justice, mercy, and peace? As I tune in to those themes, is there some grief in your heart about an area or group of people or issue that you would like to share with me today? Let me see it how you see it. Let me feel how you feel. What is the darkness that is prevailing there? Why is it there? What needs to happen there? And what would you ask me to do?”

Get somewhere quiet and spend some time asking God to show you His heart for a particular group of people, and then ask yourself:

• What aspects of their experience do you find troubling?
• What stirs your heart to compassion?
• What does Jesus want to show you about h\His perspective?
• How would He have you advocate for them?

2. Journal about who and what Jesus shows you.

3. Share what Jesus shows you with your upcoming HeartGroup this week.
The Hebrews, the people that Jesus originally came from, have a phrase: Tikkun Olam. It means “the repairing (or healing) of the world.” Jesus also said that God had not sent Him to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be healed. Jesus came showing us the way, in perfect harmony with the Hebrew prophets. Jesus came showing us the way of Hesed (Mercy), Tsadaq (Restorative Justice), and Shalom (Peace). In other words:

Hesed + Tsadaq + Shalom = Tikkun Olam

This week, pray that Jesus will enable you to take His Mercy teachings, His Justice teachings, and His Peace teachings more seriously. Let our union with Jesus truly be just that. May we join Him in His work, rather than simply inviting Him into our own agendas. We spend so much time asking Him to bless what we are up to; what would happen if we stopped to notice what He is up to in this world?

Unless you’re following of Jesus passes through the cleansing water of the Sermon on the Mount, at the very minimum it will be ineffective and, at the worst, it will be the fundamentalist terrorism of zealots.

This week, let’s follow Jesus further up and further in.

Wherever this finds you, keep living in love as Jesus defines it in Matthew 5-7 until the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys, and I’ll see you next week.