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Saturday, May 18, 2013

God Calls Us to Work for the Common Good

God Calls Us to Work for the Common Good



When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is, He answered that first we should love God with everything we have and secondly we should love our neighbor as our self. (Deuteronomy 6:5: Leviticus 19:18: Luke 10:27)  We live in a selfish age and Jesus is calling us to a different way of life, a new way of living. He is asking us to look out for one another!

He tells us that if we love Him we are to “feed His sheep.”  He tells us a parable about a “lost” sheep that the Shepherd searches for all night until he finds it. (John 21:15-17)  Shouldn’t we, His followers, also care enough to search all night if needs be for His lost sheep?  Jesus calls us out of just loving ourselves and into loving others.  He is calling us to a life of love and service.

Christian conversion is more than just getting a ticket to heaven. God calls us to a relationship (with Christ) that changes all our other relationships, and especially our relationship with the vulnerable.  Jesus cared for the poor and the sick and we are to follow in His footsteps. We are to volunteer, give of our resources and reach out and follow the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  (Luke 6:31)

In Matthew 25:31-46 Christ sets down the principles by which people will be judged.  God will judge us by our treatment of those who are hungry, homeless, poor, diseased, and imprisoned.  Social concern cannot biblically be divorced from the Christian walk.  As people of faith, we are to rise above political ideology and lead on moral grounds. 

Jesus says: “I was hungry and you gave Me food: thirsty and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger and you took Me in: Naked and you clothed Me, sick and you visited Me: I was in prison and you came to Me:  …And the righteous will answer Him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?...And the Jesus will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to Me.’”. (Matthew 25:35-37, 40) The Bible is saying that what we do for vulnerable people, we are doing for Jesus!

John Steinbeck was a famous American writer (1930s-1950s) who cared deeply about the troubles of the working poor and wanted a better life for them. He wrote more than fifty books, some of which described the plight of many in the U.S. working class at that time. His books often graphically illustrated how the powerless workers were being oppressed and cheated by their greedy employers. Steinbeck was trying to paint a picture of these working poor and help his readers see them as valuable human beings.  

When the terrible dust storms occurred in the 1930’s, the farming communities in areas of Oklahoma and surrounding states lost everything and many good men, women and children starved to death.  Many who lived in the “dust bowl” in desperation packed up and moved to California hoping to find work so they could feed their families.  California, the sunshine state was known to have an abundance of food.  

But alas, many Californians did not want these poor families moving in. The poor and the powerless were held in disregard in that day just as they are today.  In many communities the police arrested the poorest newcomers who had no visible means of support and put them in jail for being “vagrant”.  It was as if being poor was a crime!  Ugly signs were posted at the border and in shop windows and along the streets telling these destitute newcomers from Oklahoma and Arkansas to go home. And many new arrivals starved to death before they could find work in California while the people living around them didn’t care and looked the other way.      

A large group of wealthy businessmen opposed these powerless “Okies” from Oklahoma and surrounding states.  These folk might use up resources that should be going to them.  Many of these poor newcomers didn’t dress well and acted like hillbillies so they were insulted and made fun of.  They were labeled as “undesirables,” takers”, “no good” “lazy” and the “other”.

 Some of the wealthy feared that the government might raise taxes in order to feed these hungry folk. Their pocketbooks might be affected if taxes were raised. Some church groups went right along with these sentiments and turned their backs on the hunger and starvation in their midst.  Since John Steinbeck believed that a civilized society should provide a safety net for its’ disenfranchised citizens and not allow its’ people to starve, he was persecuted and called a “Communist”. 

 These events occurred seventy years ago and we might hope that attitudes toward the poor have changed since then.  But sadly there are still many Christians today who vote to disenfranchise the worker and take away any safety net out from under the poorest of the poor!  And amazingly many do this in the name of Jesus!  Christian churches make a big mistake when their main aim is to protect themselves and their own interests while ignoring Jesus’ command to feed the hungry and care for the sick!

Today many of the younger generation are no longer interested in the Christian faith. Living out the neighbor ethic is essential to the Christian church if it is to attain credibility.  Otherwise, the next generation is just going to move on from the faith since it is being portrayed by hate and prejudice instead of love and openness.  And it is even worse when Christian churches try to use politics to enforce their morals and beliefs or use the force of law to control the behavior of others!    

There is a deep hunger, especially among a new generation of young people, for a new ethic of loving our neighbor. If the faith community loves their neighbors then people will be drawn back to faith: but if we don’t, even more people will answer religious surveys with “none of the above.”  Christians need to agree that loving our neighbor is required if we say we love God!  We need to put out a new call to work for the common good. 

Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and part of this Lord’s Prayer says: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  I believe the Lord wants us to be His hands and feet to work towards righting the wrongs here on earth as there are no wrongs in heaven.  And we can start doing that by serving the most vulnerable in our society. 



Some of these thoughts and ideas were taken from Jim Wallis’ article “A Gospel for the Common Good”, page 16 in Sojourners’ Magazine, April. 2013.






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