This blog post is Part 3 in a 12-part blog series on Christianity and justice. (If you missed the first post, you can find it here.) For Christians, the life and teachings of Jesus represent the high point or climax of the Bible. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ is a turning point in the world and humanity’s relationship with God. So it is important to consider what Jesus had to say about justice.
To begin, it is important to recognize that Jesus and his family were refugees. (This fact is particularly poignant when we think about the Syrian refugee crisis today.) After the birth of Jesus, his father Joseph had a dream in which he was warned to escape to Egypt for their safety. So Joseph, Mary, and Jesus got up during the night and left for Egypt, where they stayed until the death of King Herod.
At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he begins to preach in the synagogue. In what could be considered Jesus’ mission statement, he read from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus said that he was about justice—helping the poor, healing the sick, freeing the oppressed, and bringing the Lord’s favor.
Jesus fulfilled this mission statement, both through his teachings and actions. In his teachings, Jesus stressed the importance of justice and service. In fact, Jesus said that when we help those who are in trouble and less fortunate than ourselves, we actually are loving and serving God.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34-40).
Jesus had harsh words for the Pharisees, who focused on the letter of the law but neglected the deeper heart matters of justice and mercy.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).
In his actions, Jesus did justice. He fed the hungry (John 6). He healed the sick (Matthew 8). He opposed the unfair religious power structures of the day (Matthew 23). He uprooted unjust financial structures (Matthew 21). He protected the safety and rights of women (John 8). He welcomed people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds (John 4). In both his words and actions, Jesus showed a clear value of justice for all people.
Discussion: What do you think about how justice is displayed in the life and teachings of Jesus?
Click here to read Part 4: Justice in the New Testament