Social Liberation in the Jesus Story (Part 2 of 3)

Social Liberation in the Jesus Story (Part 2 of 3) August 12, 2020

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(Read this series from its beginning here.)

impoverished landscape

Consider the following excerpts from Acts, and pay close attention to how each emphasizes the resurrection and describes what it resurrection accomplished:

”Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power . . . God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact . . . Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:22-36, emphasis added)

”The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:13-15, emphasis added)

”The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior . . .” (Acts 5:30-31, emphasis added)

Two things are happening in these passages. First, each identifies Jesus with communities who had been victimized and excluded politically, economically, and religiously. Second, each states the unjust execution has been overcome.

That Jesus was unjustly executed through an alliance of political and economic systems and that this unjust execution had been reversed places the story’s truth on the side of those damaged by those systems. The stories unmask a way of doing life that benefits some at the expense of others deemed expendable and that protects itself at any cost (see Systems of Sacrifice). 

With the authors of the gospels, we identify Jesus as in solidarity with all victims and survivors of systemic evil, both historical and contemporary. Whether we victimize people through our politics, economics, or religions, we begin to see that Jesus is with them, rather than with us (see Acts 2:37), and that we are with Jesus when we are standing alongside them too. This understanding “converts” us as followers of Jesus, to stand in solidarity with those we once harmed, over and against those systems which may privilege us at their expense.

As Jesus followers today, the gospel we tell must locate Jesus among our oppressed siblings. Whether they are women, people of color, Black people, LGBTQ people, poor people, or others, the story challenges us not to be the very ones “who don’t know what we are doing,” believing our actions to be politically “justifiable,” economically “expedient,” or religiously “required.” This interpretation challenges us to ask, as the old Black American spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” and also ask what role in the story we are taking with our actions today. The story decisively declares and demonstrates that those our present systems oppress are those we should be working alongside of, too.

To save Jesus followers socially, our gospel must include but not be focused solely on an execution, and also emphasize the deep significance of the story’s focus on resurrection.

That’s where we are headed next.

About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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