Tag Archives: justice

James on Justice (An Appeal for Classless Christianity) Introduction Part 2

classism image 5

I invite you to the series of podcasts through the Book of James I’m developing. To whet your appetite here in the blog I’m providing sound bytes of the audio episodes. The current 15-minute episode is Part 2 of 2 introductory remarks on the epistle. Part 1 is here. Enjoy!

Of all the New Testament letters, I find great value in understanding the life situation of the author, James, the half-brother of Jesus. As such, you might imagine how much he picked up from his big Brother’s teaching and lifestyle, if only at the dinner table each night, especially on the topic of money, power, and classism…

He learned from Jesus that Christianity and Classism clash! Continue reading

The Moral Governor (Part 2 of 2)

humilityIn Part 1 I made the audacious claim that the privileged inherit most of the power and the powerful end up with most of the privileges. If power corrupts then privilege is blind. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s something I call a “moral governor” that the privileged and powerful must acquire in order to benefit society.

I mentioned that there were two centurions in the New Testament that were equipped with the same moral governor that kept their power and privilege in check. You might have guessed that the second centurion was Cornelius, the one who Peter evangelized in Acts 10.

We’re told that Cornelius, who, like the other centurion, was “generous with those in need” and “respected by all the Jews.” When Peter entered his house, the mighty commander of soldiers “fell at his feet in reverence.” Far from your typical power hungry leader, this was a humane and humble-hearted man. Continue reading

“What should we do?” (Part 2 of 3)

what-should-we-doWe’re talking about how John the Baptizer sized up the legitimacy of one’s repentance. Hip deep in the river he preached, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” When three different groups of people came for baptism John gave each of them a litmus test to assess whether or not they’re ready for Messiah’s kingship.

First, he commanded the religious experts to share their food and clothing with the poor. Next, as a bunch of tax collectors came for a spiritual dunking from the camel-skin-donning, bug-eating prophet, they asked, “What shall we do?” John answered these candidates, “Don’t collect (taxes) any more than you are required to!”

This was big since these were people who worked for the occupying Roman oppressors collecting taxes from their own people. Worse than that, these shyster employees of an evil state typically extorted additional cash for their own use! They had their own neighbors by the throat. If they refused to pay, they would have to answer to Big Brother Rome. As much as the Jews hated Romans, they detested their sell out brothers more.

John’s message to us is…

If we have leverage, we are required to use it for the advantage of those who lack it.

Continue reading

“Black and Blue” Lives Matter

black-blue-lives-matter-cartoon-598There’s a bunch of stuff that doesn’t matter, like arguing about one another’s mottos about what matters!

Just so you know, I’m pretty sure that it’s my life that actually matters most! Okay, I’m willing to concede that everyone who looks like me and agrees with me matter too––somewhat.

Of course, we also stand for the officers who are serving their communities faithfully and with equanimity. Saying “black lives matter” is not choosing sides against law enforcement. It’s not saying that all cops are bad any more than it’s saying that all blacks are good.

It’s a contextualized statement, like saying “Children’s Lives Matter.” That doesn’t mean adult lives don’t matter! In Hitler’s Germany precious few courageous souls stood and said in effect, “Jewish Lives Matter!” [Before you rush to the reply button, I intend no precise correlation between German Nazism and American racism.] Nevertheless, racism is racism.

Nobody in their right mind believes that it’s “only” black lives––or blue ones, for that matter––that actually matter. In a semi-literate society we really shouldn’t have to explain that the dictum simply means that black lives matter too!

For clarity sake, this “too” isn’t the same as the other two “to’s” in our language. Though this too has two meanings, as in “too much” and “me too,” the former meaning being the one implied by the “Black Lives Matter (too)” movement.

So we should not be confused by the assumption that black folks only matter “to” us, or that there are only “two” of them or us that matter. Those are those other pesky two to’s. The “too” that we’re trying to clarify is the one that means also, the one we shouldn’t need to need in order to make it redundantly obvious that we don’t mean they’re the only ones that matter.

If all that seems too convoluted, I recommend just reverting back to me being the one who matters (most). Continue reading

Manna, Meat, and Money (An appeal for a less self-indulged and more Christ-centered Christianity) Part 5 of 5ish

LET’S TALK ABOUT MONEY

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Thus far, we’ve been talking about manna and meat. I’ve been saying that manna represents the all-sufficient Bread from Heaven, Jesus; and in contrast, meat is what we demand from God when Jesus isn’t enough for us. But where does money fit into this picture? Well, Paul, who taught that the Old Testament narrative was relevant to New Testament believers (1 Corinthians 10:1-11), proposed in a subsequent letter to the same church a startling application to the manna story.

In the process of challenging the Corinthians to pony up to give aid the poor in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8-9), Paul borrowed a piece of the manna metaphor to teach them about the spirit of generosity and egalitarianism in the Church. This time he associated manna to money. While Jesus identified himself as the Heavenly Man(na) with which we should be abundantly satisfied, Paul leveraged the imagery to show how we should relate to our material resources and demonstrate a radical liberality. “Just as God had insisted on equal portions of manna for all his people in the wilderness, so now the Corinthians should give “so that there may be equality” in the body of Christ.” Ron Sider Continue reading

My favorite book on “justice” so far (other than the Bible, of course)

justice 3I’m ashamed to admit that I came to the table late on the social justice topic. As an aspect of God’s compassionate personality and as a significant portion of our responsibility as his followers, somehow over the years this ubiquitous Bible theme eluded me. I’ve since discovered that with the possible exception of idolatry, the Bible addresses injustice with greater frequency than any other sin.

Though “justice” is mentioned 134 times in the Bible, in my three decades of pastoral ministry I never gave one message on the concept of justice for the poor and powerless. In fact, until just a few years ago, I’d never even heard a message on it. (That’s not coming to the table late – as in during the dessert. That’s arriving after the table has been cleared and the dishes washed and put away!) Nevertheless, to coin a phrase, “Better late than never.” Continue reading

On being neighborly (Who do I have to love and how much?) Part 2 of 5ish

love your neighbor“There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.” Martin Luther King Jr at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, July 4, 1965.

Neighborly: Characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, kind, obliging, helpful, hospitable, civil, generous…

In Part 1 I mentioned that the “Love your neighbors” command appears throughout the Bible’s pages and I proposed that the neighbors we’re supposed to love are not just those in our same zip code.

Here’s where we jump into some of those neighborliness passages. For my money, the best way to understand any theme in Scripture is to look at as many of the passages as we can where it is found and study each one along with their contexts. From Moses to Jesus to Paul to James God’s demand to “Love your neighbor” is convictingly clear. Jesus called it the second greatest command and his half-brother James referred to it as “the royal law of Scripture.” Let’s unpack some of these a bit. Continue reading