God loves 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)

"Blessed are the poor in spirit (that is, all those whose self respect and dignity have been taken from them) for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (i.e. those who are longing for vindication) for they shall be satisfied... "

Following 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 on Mission.

            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).

            So 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.

Help for further reflection

            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 movements.




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