This week has been really powerful already, getting a taste of homelessness and tragedies experienced by so many (both here in Toronto and around the globe). I was talking with Craig tonight about my struggle thinking through how to really help these people beyond just giving them food or money. Sure feeding them and giving them stuff is great, but how can I (how can we!) actually help them get back on their feet, find a job, and fight through the hopeless situation they’re living in.
At the Praise & Worship service tonight, the CSM staff provided a “Poverty and Justice Bible” with all the verses mentioning poverty & justice were highlighted. I opened to the Gospel of Matthew and read Mt. 26:6-13, which spurred many of these thoughts and ramblings.
Mary anointed Jesus for his burial. When Jesus was questioned about the wasteful stewardship (and there was probably some non-spoken accusation of “spiritual showboating” too), Jesus’ answer cuts right to the heart of why the Church exists.
Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Jesus explains the beautiful thing Mary had done by preparing him for his burial… Jesus points to the cross. The cross and resurrection are the absolute focal point of the Gospel Message; if we do not focus on the cross and resurrection then we are not teaching the Gospel.
Later on in Acts 6:1-7 we see the Apostles appointing Deacons to oversee the ministry to the poor and needy. They appointed Deacons so that they could continue to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word (which I take to point to both Evangelism and Discipleship). They did not believe it was right for them to change the Church’s identity as a Gospel-obsessed group of people into a social justice organization; and yet they very intentionally made sure that the poor and needy were being taken care of.
Many Christians today are working to re-instill a commitment to social justice within the Evangelical Church in America. This movement makes me very excited, but it also makes me a little bit nervous. This is a huge gap in many of today’s evangelical churches and the need for it is so great, especially in these economically difficult times. Yet, we must be sure to keep Jesus’ death and resurrection as the absolute center of our mission and purpose for existing.
It’s wonderful to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked and to visit the prisoner in his time of distress – but if we do not keep the Gospel Message at the core of what we do, then people’s quality of life may improve, but their souls are still lost and without eternal hope. We may have helped many, but we have not helped the most we could have because we have put the “needy” in the central role that Jesus Christ ought to have in our Church.
The Church must be a place where these people are loved. But rather than seeking to welcome them in and waiting for them to come, I’m beginning to wonder how we ought to be equipped to go out to them. We can be famously welcoming, but if we don’t go to them then they won’t come to us. Why should they if they don’t know they’re welcome (and a welcome mat out front of the church’s door isn’t enough).
The reality is exactly as Jesus says, “You will always have the poor with you.” Rather than giving into pessimism and thinking that this is a hopeless fight, let us strengthen our commitment to keep the Gospel Message at our core – and let that core absolutely motivate and equip us to go out and radically engage with the needy around us through both ‘official’ social justice ministries (like soup kitchens and political renewal) and through little and simple ways that remain unstructured and fluid (buying someone lunch who’s in need of food and getting to know them “just because”).
Above all, may we be so changed by the Gospel that our lives are transformed in order that we might resemble Jesus Christ more and more each day. Social justice is the calling of every Christian, but we must remember that the Gospel is our life; if we lose the Gospel-focus in the midst of doing social justice we will eventually find that we have forfeited the souls of the lives we have worked to save.