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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
The Jesus stories repeat this theme over and over. In Luke, the father of the prodigal son deeply loved the older brother. He wanted to help the older brother find his humanity toward his younger brother, just as much as he rejoiced at the younger brother’s return. Even while the older brother feels the celebration of his sibling is unjust, their father maintains solidarity with the younger brother and pleads with his older son to embrace his brother as well. In other words, the father is not going to change who he is to accommodate the older brother’s warped view of justice. The older brother will have to change to stand alongside his father. He’ll have to embrace his younger brother if he is to come in from the outer darkness that night.
To see Jesus as one who takes the side of the oppressed is vital if we are to follow Jesus in shaping a more just reiteration of our present world.
Remember that Rome claimed the gods were on their side. Herod claimed God had chosen him as the messiah and rightful king of Israel. Caiaphas and the elite claimed God was on their side.
Yet for the early Christians, the Divine was not found standing with any of these. The resurrection event is part of the story to help us transit to a world where God is actually on the side of those being shamefully suspended between heaven and earth at the hands of unjust oppressive powers.
The Jesus story is all about taking sides. It’s about a path for those on both sides of oppression to take hold of or reclaim their humanity. It’s the story of a Jesus who stood in solidarity with all who find themselves on a cross at the hands of unjust systems. As Jesus stood in solidarity with the oppressed, marginalized, and disadvantaged, it calls into question the religious views of oppressors who say that God is instead on their side.
A well-meaning response to this is to say that God doesn’t take sides. But, in the face of oppression, this doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t go anywhere near as far as Jesus went. The Jesus story repeatedly calls us to choose a side.
To change systemic oppression, every time, we must stand in solidarity with the oppressed, demanding oppressors regain their own humanity in the face of the harm they’re doing. If Jesus took sides, then Jesus followers who live in privileged social locations must pick a side, as well.
If Christianity does not offer a better God than the one who has always stood in solidarity with oppression, it is not life-giving but death-dealing.
Jesus said it best: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
God’s just future—the justice that so many are socially, religiously, economically, politically, and ecologically hungering and thirsting for—is not retributive. It’s not punitive. No, God’s just future as revealed through Jesus is one where the humanity of everyone is restored and those who hunger for justice will be filled.
Depending on your social location, first or last, this is good news.
This is gospel.
“From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still when God rose up to establish justice, to save all the oppressed of the earth. Selah.”
(Psalms 76:8-9, emphasis added.)