The Bible places responsibility for social justice on society as a whole.
Yet the poor and marginalized should not remain passive, they need to exercise the rights already given to them and to continue pursuing a more perfect justice in society.
But can they do this on their own when the social and political system benefits from maintaining the status quo and not allowing change?
I wonder what my hope and desire for the poor is? Is it that their lives become bearable and decent while they remain poor?
If I desire to see them get out of poverty, they will not be able to do it on their own because the social, economic and political systems are against them and do not want to change the way things are.
The Apostle Paul’s uses the image of the “body” to characterize various individuals working together in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. This had not only to do with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but also of the stronger members of the body taking care of the weaker ones.
Bruce Longenecker, professor and W.W. Melton chair of religion at Baylor University, refers to it as not communism, not charity, but community. The poor are not objects to be pitied.
I wonder if we have it wrong when we leave the poor to seek their rights on their own, when we who have the power and influence should be standing up and fighting for justice for the poor.
Is it because we are comfortable with our Christianity and do not want to risk the privileges we enjoy in society by challenging the powerful and those in authority?
If we are unable to change unjust systems, we at least need to be prophetic voices that speak against injustice.
How are we then to live?
The Bible definitely talks about being charitable and meeting the immediate needs of the poor and broken as being the hallmarks of a follower of Christ – the marks of a disciple.
Jesus provides us a model of what it is like to work with the poor, as 80 percent of the population of Palestine were poor (not destitute).
Amid a brutal occupation in first-century Palestine, where there was little justice, Jesus lived by the power of God.
He demonstrated what the Kingdom of God was like by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, treating every human being regardless of who they were with dignity, challenging those who oppressed the poor as they sought to worship God (the money changers and the priests), and teaching about a God who cared and listened to their cries for help.
He pointed them to a God who is loving and just, and challenged them to turn away from evil and worship him.
He dared to show the world that there was another Kingdom where there was justice and compassion, and this threatened those who were in power.
Rupen Das is research professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and a consultant for mission and development at the European Baptist Federation based in Amsterdam on temporary assignment from Canadian Baptist Ministries. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.