I’m heading to The Justice Conference in Philadelphia this week. I wrote a series of posts several months ago reflecting on themes related to the pre-conference session “Sustaining a Justice Movement: how did John M. Perkins, Mother Teresa, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer do it?” which I will be leading on Friday, February 22 at 9am. I’m going to reprint those pieces this week in hopes that we might all be thinking through these matters together. If you will be in Philly, I hope you’ll come to my session! If not, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Hope to see you at The Justice Conference!
How to Sustain Jesus’ Justice Movement, Part 2
How is a justice movement sustained? In my first post on this subject, I wrote that first and foremost, a justice movement is sustained by knowing that Jesus alone can and will sustain it. Apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Another key factor that we must realize is that when we serve others we are serving him. What difference might it make to you and me in caring for a sick person, an elderly widow, someone imprisoned, or an orphan in distress if we were to sense that in caring for them we are serving Jesus?
In the account of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, Jesus is recorded as saying, “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…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40) While it may very well be the case that the Lord is talking first and foremost about caring for his followers in need, I believe his words bear upon ministering to all people. When we serve them, we serve him.
So, how shall we serve? Will we use those we serve to benefit us or our ministries? All too often, we find our worth through serving people rather than serving them in view of the worth we have in being loved by God. By the way, it is worth noting in this regard that the sheep here in Matthew 25 don’t even realize that they are sheep. Whereas the goats seem to be surprised to find out that they haven’t been caring for Jesus, the sheep are not cognizant of having done so. I take this to mean that they are not self-conscious, but conscious of the other (See Matthew 25:37-39, 44). Jesus tells us this story because he definitely wants us to keep in mind that when we care for others in need we care for him and because of him we are to care for others in need.
The more we grow in the love of God the more we serve not so as to benefit ourselves, but to benefit the one who loves us. Our joy flows from loving the one who loves us and who loves those we serve. If I care for others because I want to assure myself that I am a sheep and not a goat, I am not really caring for them, but for myself through them. But as I know the love of God revealed in Jesus and that in serving them I am serving him who identifies himself with them I believe I will come to love them truly and freely with no strings attached.
A justice movement that uses people to build one’s ego or one’s ministry profile is no justice movement at all. Justice flows from the loving and compassionate heart of God and leads to the love of the other with whom Jesus identifies himself in prison, in hunger, in loneliness and abandonment, in sickness and in various other forms of need.