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Responding to Violence: Jesus Calls Us to Justice

By Brad Zinn

Open hands accepting

Last week, I wrote about a struggle Mosaic experienced several years ago, in the wake of a shooting on our block. The first belief that carried us through that time, the belief that Jesus sees our pain, was the subject of last week's blog post. If you want to talk more about that, I'm at brad@mosaicphiladelphia.org.

Today, we reflect on another perspective that speaks to how Jesus views our suffering: Jesus calls us to justice.

The book of Mark, in the Bible, tells the story of a wealthy and devoutly religious man who approaches Jesus and falls on his knees:

"Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good - except God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"

"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

It's important to remember that Jesus loved this young man. He sees his pain. He sees that although he has everything that people believe will make you happy, the young man is miserable.

So Jesus leads him through an exercise: "Imagine that all of your privileges are gone ... imagine that your advantages disappear ... imagine instead that you use your privilege to help those without the same advantages live better lives."

The exercise reveals the hole in the middle of the young man's life. Without his advantages, the young man has no sense of security. He is lost. In his fear and grief, he misses the Kingdom of God.

We catch another glimpse of Jesus' call to justice when Jesus visits the temple in the second chapter of the book of John. When he arrives, there are merchants selling all kinds of animals in the temple courts. Jesus is so offended that he makes a whip out of cords and begins physically driving the merchants out.

It's easy to get distracted by this glimpse of an angry Jesus, and lose sight of the bigger picture. What does Jesus see that offends him so much?

The temple was the center of Jewish worship - for the rich, poor, and everyone in between. At some point, every God fearing Jew was expected to journey to Jerusalem and worship. For the poorest and most vulnerable, this was a challenge, to say the least.

When they arrived at the Temple, they had to purchase animals to sacrifice them. But the common coins of the day, Roman coins, were not allowed in the Temple because they had a "graven image" of Caesar's face on them. By moving the animals inside the temple, the merchants forced the worshippers to change their money outside the Temple, and they profited off of the trade. This system particularly disadvantaged those who had the least money to spare.

In these two stories, we see the bounds of Jesus' call to justice. He sees the pain of individuals, like the rich man in the first story, and of entire groups, like the poorer Jews traveling to the temple. His response in both cases is to point the way to a more just world.

Questions for consideration:

  1. What advantages do you have in your life? Can you imagine sharing those with the people around you who don't have the same advantages? What would that feel like?
  2. What unjust systems do you see in the world around you? How an you work to change them? Is there anything you're afraid of losing in that process.
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