STRUGGLES FOR JUSTICE
everyone equally and does not differentiate between the rich and
the poor. All have sinned and fallen short of God's glory.
Therefore, all need salvation from sin, we are told. Further, the
Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:24 “Brothers,
each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation
God called him to.” This was said with reference to slaves. Slaves
were instructed to serve their masters in the same way that they
would serve the Lord. All that was required of the masters was to
be kind to slaves.
On the basis of
verses like the one above and also because we are all called upon
to bear the cross and suffer with Christ, we are told that
attempts to bring about social equality is contrary to the divine
order of things.
This view has enjoyed wide acceptance and popularity. However, we
must examine this assumption more closely. Who are the exponents
of this universal Gospel? Do they themselves bear the cross, or
do they merely advise those who suffer injustice to continue to do
so lest their own positions of privileges be challenged? Does the
call to take up one's cross and follow Jesus mean to put up with
one's lot, or does it mean to face suffering as a consequence of
challenging injustice? How should we interpret Paul's advice to
the slaves in the context of his categorical declaration 'Do not
become slaves of men'? Let us turn to Jesus and see whether he
approves struggles for justice or views them with disapproval
The call to seek God's Kingdom
and God's Righteousness (Matt.5:3, 5, and 6)
the poor in spirit (that is, all those whose self respect and
dignity have been taken from them) for theirs is the Kingdom
the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (i.e. those who
are longing for vindication) for they shall be satisfied... "
immediately the assurance to the despised and the disinherited, in
verses 6 and 7 we see “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the
merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. These affirmations
refer to those who are in solidarity with those who suffer. They
also refer to those who are merciful and are ready to suffer for
the sake of bringing about justice.
These are well-known sayings from the Sermon on the Mount. But
what is the master plan through which one day the poor will
exercise authority and replace the authority of the elite and the
powerful? How will the disinherited meek become owners of the
earth? By what means will those longing for vindication find
fulfillment? Does the Lord actually have a plan for these things
to come to pass? Are there any clues to this in Jesus’ own life?
Yes indeed, there are.
Jesus organized the people of Galilee who
had been deemed as under a divine curse (Deut 27:13). But Isaiah
9:1-7 the prophecy about the Messiah already spoke of a divine
plan to reverse this false attribution of a curse. So Jesus
organized these people under the banner of the coming righteous
rule of God. The greeting of peace seems to have been a slogan
used to rally people to work for God's righteous rule (Luke 10:
4-6). “Do not take a purse or bag or
sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a
house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is
there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to
you.” Implicit in these words is the proclamation against
oppressive political forces and the mere formalism of religion.
The social value structure of according respect and welcome to
well dressed moneyed people was also to be reversed. So working
for God's righteous rule implied a readiness to take a stand
against the power of Rome and to be involved in a counterculture.
Money was stamped with the Roman emperor's head. Jesus seems to
suggest a symbolic acceptance of barter to renounce Imperial
tyranny. Jesus also deliberately healed many on the Sabbath as a
protest against the formalism of religion. Thus the Sabbath
healings are justified on the grounds that the Sabbath was made
for people (i.e. suffering humanity) and not vice versa. It is
with these ideas which Jesus must have communicated to the
disciples in much greater elaboration he sends his disciples out
Jesus did not stop with challenging the corrupt religious
traditions of his day - he also challenged the imperial power of Rome.
The Gospel writers do not allow us to think for one moment that
Jesus believed that the Romans were ruling as God's agents. There
was severe criticism of the way in which Romans exercised
authority (Mk. 10: 42-44).
Jesus also questioned the injustice implicit in Roman taxation
(Matt.17:2526). "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's”
is not a call to be loyal to Rome. It was a
call to resist the power of Rome by a total boycott of the Roman
coinage bearing an image (an abomination to Jews because of the
second Commandment) and a blasphemous inscription which referred
to Caesar as Son of God and Lord (Mk. 12: 15-17).
when Jesus was accused of claiming to be a king and instigating
people not to pay taxes to Rome
(Luke 23: 1-2) it was not altogether a false charge. Jesus was
teaching people to resist economic domination by resorting to
barter (Luke 10: 7-8) and not through the sword i.e. a food,
shelter, clothing and companionship for the work for God's
righteous rule. Jesus was trying to substitute
oppressive traditions justified in the name of the Law with a new
Law. He was encouraging people to live as children although Rome was
treating them as aliens. The Romans levied a poll tax on
non-Citizens. This applied to all the colonized people. Whereas
Jesus was challenging this tradition by saying that Rome an alien
power had no right to call sons of the soil as aliens and levy a
tax on them. Where did Jesus' struggle lead him to in the end?
As he knew all along, Jesus' fight against established norms led
him to the Cross. His own disciples fled in despair. Jesus died
crying out the same way as earlier victims (Ps. 22 .1 : "My God,
my God, why have you forsaken me?.." ) who also affirmed their
faith through their cry of agony.
However further down in Psalm 22 we see that despair gave rise to
a new hope and a stronger faith. Death was swallowed up in
victory. This is the ever-present mystery of the power of
powerlessness. When the dispirited poor and the disinherited meek
rise up and challenge the perversions of religion, culture and
politics they may indeed be crushed. But their defeat will be
vindicated. Their longing for righteousness will be satisfied.
Read Ephesians 6: 10-17
- The phrase "principalities and powers" refers to all the power
structures of society, i.e., culture, social order, political
authority, religious authority, etc. Analyse the armour pieces -
Read Isa. 11:1-6; 52: 7-9; 59:14-19.
What kind of struggle does Paul speak of? What do you think is the
"Sword of the Spirit?" Also see Isa. 42:1-4 and see how Matthew
applies this prophecy to Jesus in 12: 1-18.
Does the Gospel demand that we participate in non-religious
political and social struggles to establish justice for the poor
and the marginalised? How aware are you of the different people's
movements in India? Take at
least one movement (e.g., The National Fishermen's Forum) and
study how it operates. You may be interested to learn that there
are many Christians who are deeply involved in a number of these