Redefining Christianity to be more Jesus-like in our pursuit of social justice – austin360

redefining-christianity-to-be-more-jesus-like-in-our-pursuit-of-social-justice-–-austin360

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Walt Shelton is a part-time professor at Baylor Law School and an environmental attorney in Austin.

Without qualification, truly following Jesus means prioritizing the active pursuit of justice every day of our lives.  The imperative root of this emphasis is at the heart of Judaism as understood by Jesus. 

From greeting and treating all people, especially those who differ from us, in an equally friendly and impartial manner to supporting policies and requirements for fair and ethical treatment of  currently or formerly disadvantaged or oppressed persons, it is time for justice without delay. In a nutshell, this is love expressed in practical daily living. 

For Christians, advocating justice in word and more particularly deed is a mandate because being Christian means to live according to the life-model and teachings of Jesus. As Jesus said countless times per the New Testament Gospels to people of his time and us today: “Follow me.”  For non-Christians who hold to other faith traditions or simply aspire to live in a meaningfully impactful manner, Jesus offers a stellar example as well.

Unfortunately, what often passes for “Christian” in the public and political square of our American culture does not remotely reflect what Jesus taught and lived. In fact, the public face of Christianity often reeks of exclusivity, violence and the pursuit of power, which makes it unrecognizable as authentically associated with Jesus. 

Parts of Luke chapters 3 and 4 considered alongside Jesus’s lifetime of helping and actively caring for the sick, outcasts, oppressed, poor and other disadvantaged persons highlight the primacy of the pursuit of justice. In a nutshell, Jesus experienced something vocationally formative at his baptism (Luke 3: 21-22).  Subsequently, Jesus retreated in solitude to the deserted wilderness to struggle with his calling (Luke 4:1-13).   

In Judeo-Christian terminology, this introspective and formative time related to what type of Messiah or “anointed” one he would be, model, and teach during his life. He struggled mightily as personified by the “devil” tempting him in wrong directions, as many of his followers more than likely did up until his death.  As the author of Luke describes, Jesus said “no” to temptations toward extreme worldly power (e.g., military or political) or overtly miraculous showman (Luke 4:5-12) as he dug deeply for his correct path. 

What resulted from Jesus’s extensive baptismal and messianic audit in the wilderness? Clarity!

Luke describes Jesus emerging from his solitary grappling with doubt with a definitive understanding of his mission, which also should be the mission of all Christians and other persons of goodwill who want to live in a truly love-based manner. 

Jesus came forth full of the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4: 14), essentially meaning with God’s direction, companionship and partnership.  Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth (verse 16). Drawing from Isaiah, one of several prophetic champions of justice in his Jewish tradition, Jesus announced at the outset of and as a signpost to the entirety of his public ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (verses 18-19). 

Having rejected power and overt miracle-working (i.e., putting on a show for all to see), Jesus embraced the cause of the poor and oppressed as his own. That indeed is what we should do as his followers and people who are fed up with the extremes of judgment, inequality, partiality, violence and oppression. 

In his letter to the Ephesians a few decades after the life and teachings of Jesus, which was probably more of a circular letter to several churches in Asia Minor, St. Paul aptly stated: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5: 15-16). 

We are 57 years past the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Arguably, things are no better and potentially worse than in the 1960s in certain subtle as well as overt ways.

We are in trouble in America. Our days are certainly “evil” in how certain people and groups of people are consistently treated. We need to be very “careful” and intentional in how we live and respond to inequity because our mortal lives are limited. It is high time right now and without any further delay for a full-scale cultural transformation in the name not only of Christianity and the ways of Jesus but also in the similar spirit of humanity and decency.  

Walt Shelton is an author, speaker, professor at Baylor Law School, and environmental attorney in Austin. His Nautilus Silver Award winning book, "The Daily Practice of Life: Practical Reflections Toward Meaningful Living' (CrossLink Publishing 2020), is a collection of previous Statesman columns. Find it at waltshelton.com.  The Mindful Word originally posted a variant of this article at themindfulword.org/2021/jesus-cultural-transformation/.            

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