One of the blogs I peruse regularly is called God’s Politics. It comes from the Sojourners community, which was organized in the early 1970s in an inner–city neighbourhood in Washington DC. Led by Jim Wallis, this ministry focuses on the relationship between Christian faith and social and economic justice. Their mission is to “articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.”
Jim Wallis writes that “One of our first activities was to find every verse of scripture about the poor, wealth and poverty, and social justice. We found more than 2,000 texts that we then cut out of an old Bible. We were left with a ‘Bible full of holes’ which I used to take out with me to preach.”
A Bible full of holes. That’s what you get when you take social justice and economic issues out of the Bible. A hole–y Bible. Christian faith cares intensely about social justice issues in our world. Those who claim that Christianity is a private faith simply haven’t read their Bible. Let me give just a few examples.
After learning she is to bear Jesus in her womb, Mary sings the Magnificat, which includes these lines “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” It echoes the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 —” He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honour.”
Near the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable in which the righteous and the unrighteous are judged on this basis: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Both the righteous and unrighteous are surprised by this judgment. When did we do this, or not do this? Jesus’ response is that “as you did it (or didn’t do it) to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”
Israel’s prophets also thundered against the rich. In words that Martin Luther King, Jr would often use, Amos preached “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever–flowing stream.”
Isaiah puts a rhetorical question in God’s mouth: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
I could go on and on. Just a few weeks ago, I discovered an interactive tool online which allows us to see how frequently a word is used in scripture. “Poor” and “poverty” appear 446 times in 384 separate verses. “Wealth” can be found 1,453 times. “Justice” appears 1,576 times.
On the other hand, “hell” only appears 237 times. “Heaven” shows up 771 times and such an important concept as “love” only 654 times. “Family values” or “believing Jesus is my personal Saviour” doesn’t appear at all.
“Justice” is mentioned twice as many times as “love” or “heaven”, and seven times more often than “hell”. Isn’t that interesting? It seems obvious that justice is a pretty big deal to God.
I’m inspired when I see movements which bring social justice to the fore. In a land of plenty such as Canada and the US, it’s a moral outrage that the gap between rich and poor is widening at an increasing rate. The richest one per cent in the US, for example, now pocket nearly 25 per cent of the nation’s income, and control more than 50 per cent of the total wealth. At the same time, the number of homeless people increases alarmingly.
Justice issues are at the heart of Christian faith. Followers of Jesus are called to help end extreme poverty, combat greed, build a more equitable economy at home and abroad, eradicate malaria and other imminently curable diseases from the world, and heal the environment. Our faith is intensely this–worldly, loving the world with the same passion as God.
If one is to believe the Bible, this is what is in the heart of God. Or perhaps you’d rather read a hole–y Bible?
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook