Should a Christian take the social causes? If he should take the social causes, how should he take it up? Should he or should he not criticize the religious and social instutituions without mincing words? If he criticizes, does that mean he does not love the enemies? How should one love the enemies then? Jerry Thomas looks at the life and words of LORD Jesus Christ as recorded in the Biblical Gospels to answer these questions.
Christians should take up the cause of the oppressed (particularly Dalits in the Indian context), poor and widow of the society. Unfortunately many Christians have become so ‘other-worldly’ that anything to do this ‘world’ is totally unpalatable for them. They believe that they can preach the Gospel without critiquing the erroneous value system and the ideologies behind it. They would have no criticisms of current society, leave alone criticizing the false religions. If at all they criticize they will ensure that it offends no one. I have often felt that such ‘other worldly simpleton love’ Christians are more trying to save their own skins rather than save any souls. Love of Jesus is tough and dangerous. It involves calling a spade a spade at the face of spade as much it involves loving in the face of extreme animosity and danger. Jesus of the Bible (and not the tamed image of Jesus which is an idol carved by our own mind) was highly critical of the society he lived even to extend of intentionally provoking and offending the social and religious groups of that time. Yet, Jesus loved dangerously to point of cross. Let us read the Holy Bible to understand it. 1. John 9 & 10: Why Did Jesus Make Clay on a Sabbath? Jesus the Good Shepherd and Light of the World who Intentionally Provokes a Hypocritical Society to Expose its Darkness Let us begin with a passage from the Gospel of John: John 9: 1- 7
“Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.”How did the works of God reveal in this blind man? When the blind received the sight surely the power of God was revealed. But that interpretation alone would leave a few questions unanswered. Let me ask two questions from this passage;
- Why did Jesus make the clay to heal the blind man? Should he not have healed by mere words as he did at many other times?
- How did it prove that Jesus is the light of the world?
We will begin with the first question. Jesus had healed a centurion’s servant without even seeing that person (Matthew 8:5-13). Jesus who created heavens and earth by His word could have healed a blind man with His word. In fact, we may think that would have expressed God’s power more. Then why did Jesus make the clay.
The answer is given in the next few verses. We have missed the answer as the answer is so uncomfortable to all.
John 9: 13-15 “They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
The answer is – it was a Sabbath. What does that mean? As the Lord of Sabbath, Jesus could have healed the blind man by His word. Then did Jesus make clay on a Sabbath to provoke the Pharisees?
It obviously seems to have caused a big offence to the Pharisees. They could not believe it. They asked the blind man again (John 9:15). Then they called his parents (John 9: 18 – 21). They again (John 9:24) called the blind man who received the sight and asked “how did He open your eyes?” (John 9:26). That how question seems to have really bothered Pharisees. When we understand why of that ‘how’, it will really bother many of us also. Among many other things, this seems to have caused the Pharisees to reject Jesus as Messiah. They even excommunicated the erstwhile blind man. His parents also seem to have been afraid.
Was making the clay that worth? Pharisees got offended, erstwhile blind man got excommunicated, his parents got scared and Jesus was rejected. What would we have said? I suggest a few answers.
- He could have done it differently: While we truly appreciate the work of Jesus in healing the blind, we certainly disapprove his ‘way’ of doing it. In fact, he could have done it on other six days to avoid any offence and unrest in the society. As a matter of fact, a ruler of the synagogue suggested this- “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). This ruler of the synagogue would have been hailed as a wise man and a peace loving believer by many. But let us see the answer by Jesus.
Answer by Jesus: In Luke 13: 15-16 we read “The Lord then answered him and said “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it- for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
- He is unbiblical: Some of us would have surely rejected Jesus. Many of us like the Pharisees are very “thorough with the Bible” and we know it for sure that no one will intentionally provoke like this!!! Pharisees said “This man is not from God because He does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16). Answer by Jesus: John 10:1 “Most assuredly, I say to you he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep”. If our response corresponds to Pharisees, then it is time for us to examine ourselves.
2. Matthew 15: 1-20 and Luke 11: 37-46: Why Did Jesus Eat Without Washing the Hands?
Jesus Breaks a Scientific Tradition to Expose a Hollow Value System
Pharisees are no longer a dominant group. In fact their influence seems to have weaned away long time back. Why did the word of God devote much space for this group who were influential for only a short time? I believe it is because they were a type of many past, present and future ‘influential religious groups’.
If someone can boast in prayer, then a Pharisee could boast much more. He prayed standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets (Matthew 6:5) and his prayers were definitely longer (Matthew 23:14).
If someone can boast in fasting (may be once in a week or once in year) and giving money to religious institutions, then a Pharisee could boast more. For he fasted twice a week and gave tithes of all that he possessed (Luke 18:12)
If someone can boast in being ritually clean, then a Pharisee could boast more. He was truly offended when someone broke their cleanliness rituals and paid no spiritual value for those (Matthew 15:1-20).
If someone can boast in being teachers of religious texts, then a Pharisee could boast more. A Pharisee memorized the Pentateuch.
If someone can boast of their concern for souls, then a Pharisee could boast more. His ‘concern’ for the lost soul was so much that he travelled land and sea to win one convert (Matthew 23:15).
Jesus seems to have offended this group by breaking a few scientific and healthy traditions of them. This group can be identical of any religious and social group. It can be Hindus, Muslims and even some Christians. If you want to know the gravity of this offence, ask a Muslim about his opinion of someone praying without washing hands and feet. He is surely a Kafir.
In Matthew 15:1-2, we see the disciples of Jesus eating the bread without washing their hands. When Jesus was questioned about this by Pharisees and scribes, Jesus did not scold the disciples or apologize to the Pharisees and scribes. He rather exposed the Pharisees and scribes. < span style="font-size: 10pt; font-family: 'Verdana','sans-serif'"> One may say that this breaking of the tradition by disciples were not intentional. However, in Luke 11: 38, Jesus himself did not wash His hands before dinner. When scribes and Pharisees saw, they were surely offended by this. When asked about this, Jesus exposed their hypocritical values. How would we have responded?
I give two options:
- Offence and the soul saving concern: Some of us out of genuine concern may express a soul saving concern. We may ask- if we offend someone how will we save them? Disciples asked the same question. They said in Matthew 15:12, we read: “Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
Answer by Jesus: Matthew 15: 13-14 “But He answered and said “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch”
(Note: Here people were offended because their evil deeds were exposed. You can also read Matthew 13:57. Now, there is another type of offense- where we offend someone because of our sin. LORD Jesus Christ spoke about it in Matthew 18:6-9. Jesus Christ himself explained this offense when He said “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you” (Matthew 18:8). We must differentiate between these two offenses and the second one we must never do).
- You are vilifying them: One of the objections to social criticism is – you are vilifying them. It seems we should not call spade a spade. In Luke 11:45, we read “Then one of the lawyers answered and said to Him, “Teacher, by saying these things You reproach us also.” Answer by Jesus: Luke 11:46 “And He said, Woe to you also lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
Some may whine and say “what a tasteless language”. Some Dawah preachers like MM Akbar had already said so. Unfortunately a few Christians will also denounce such language if it comes from any believer. If our response corresponds to Pharisees and still we claim that we are Christians, it is time for us to examine ourselves.
Someone may have a question here: If we identify so much with the oppressed of the society (read Dalits) and take up their cause, are we not alienating the Pharisee (read the Brahmins).
3. Jesus Identified With the Tax Collectors and Sinners (Matthew 9: 9-13)
It must be remembered that Jesus ate with the tax collectors and sinners. When Pharisees saw it and asked the disciples about it, Jesus answered them in Matthew 9:12-13: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance”.
Is it not Jesus who said: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:18-19).
Should we now have any problem to stand with the poor, brokenhearted, captives, blind and the oppressed? If we stand with the oppressed (e.g. Dalits) and speak boldly and strongly against the oppressor (e.g. Brahmins), will we not be persecuted? Are we not adding fire to the fuel?
Do not worry. Pharisees had already thought about it. They said: “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him and Romans will come and take away both our place and nation” (John 11:48). Therefore they had a solution- reject and crucify Jesus. That is
the only solution for Christians who would want to make a compromise to buy ‘peace’. Choice is yours.
Does all this mean that we want a civil war? Does that we mean we will not love Brahmins, or the oppressor? No. Not at all. It only means that we will love according to the Bible. Read this: Proverbs 28:4 “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but such as keep the law contend with them.”
Jesus taught to love everyone in an unconventional way. In Luke 10:29-37, Jesus told the story of a Good Samaritan. Telling the story of a Good Samaritan to a “lawyer” (Pharisee) is like telling the story of a Dalit to a Brahmin. It is not just offensive to the Brahmins but it is also a hardship for the Dalits. I cannot explain that story better than Martin Luther King, Jr, a man who imitated Jesus well. Below is the excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr’ s famous and last speech- I've Been to the Mountaintop.
4. Luke 10:29-37- The Story of a Good Samaritan
Martin Luther King, Jr:
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base…. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate.
But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother.
Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect. But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me.
It's possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road.
In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question. Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination.
Remember Martin Luther King was highly critical of white supremacists. He never minced the words or used politically correct language. But he never took the gun also. He was martyred just apostles were martyred. In them, we have examples of imitators of Jesus.
In Conclusion: Jesus of Nazareth was highly critical of the social structure that he lived in. He did not mind to intentionally provoke and even offend the oppressors of the society. But He did not allow us to take revenge and hate. It is a paradoxical love and in this if someone is offended and does not come to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, let us say “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch”. Love of Jesus is tough and dangerous.
For Further Reading:
- Truth and Social Reform by Vishal Mangalwadi (http://www.vishalmangalwadi.com/vkmWebSite/files/Truth_and_
- Deeper Hindu Studies and Skepticism by Pandita Ramaba (http://www.sakshitimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=122&Itemid=41)