Do not Rob the Poor: Do Justice!

Do not Rob the Poor: Do Justice!
I’m currently working through the book of Isaiah for my devotional reading. Please allow me to share with you a provocative passage that I read this morning from Isaiah chapter 10. I will close with a brief comment.
 
1 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
 
and the writers who keep writing oppression,
 
2 to turn aside the needy from justice
 
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
 
that widows may be their spoil,
 
and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
 
3 What will you do on the day of punishment,
 
in the ruin that will come from afar?
 
To whom will you flee for help,
 
and where will you leave your wealth? (Isaiah 10:1-3)
While this passage makes a clarion call to anyone to do justice, it is directed explicitly to those in power and authority, and the individuals with societal influence who use their influence and power to write off justice and promote what is deemed unjust, God-dishonoring, and evil before the Lord. The underlying truth about this passage is that God despises these people and will judge them for the miscarriage of justice and the failure to protect the weak and the oppressed. Furthermore, my summary of this passage is articulated in six points below:
  1.   Do to support those who rob the poor and exploit the immigrant, undocumented workers, etc. to make a profit and increase their wealth!
  2.  Do not associate with those who oppress the poor, the widow, and the fatherless.
  3. Be on the side of the oppressed and those do not have a voice or whose voices have been silent.
  4.  Always be on the side of justice by walking in solidarity with the oppressed and the least among us.
  5.  Defend the rights (i.e. Human rights, civil rights, the right to live and exist) of those whose rights have been taken away and those whose rights have been undermined in society.
  6.  People who refuse to do these things or any of these things will experience God’s imminent eschatological judgment and his great day of wrath.
*Our present time is characterized by an increase desire and search for wealth, power, and economic stability, as well as prominence, popularity, and high social standing. Unfortunately, many people, corporations, institutions, both private and public, will do whatever it takes–even stepping on people’s toes or employers will exploit their employers or vice versa–to get to the top. By contrary, the disciples of Christ in today’s society are called to live differently and justly in these dangerous times than those who are not following Christ and resisting justice and love.   God’s wisdom contradicts human wisdom, and his ways transcend ours. God has called the community of faith, his people, to be on the side of justice and to work robustly, consistently, and practically to affirm the value of underprivileged individuals and people–by defending their rights and take a stand against those who are mistreating, exploiting, and dehumanizing them. Failure to practice any of these things will bring dishonor to God and stimulate his wrath and judgment. He has called his people, the people of God to embrace a higher ethical and value system and to an alternative lifestyle that are contrary to worldly demands but consistent with his character and his desire for justice, righteousness, and human flourishing.

To the glorious praise of the Triune and Eternal God!
Rev. Dr. Celucien L. Joseph
President
Hope for Today Outreach
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Jesus, a Man of Color: Rethinking about the Color of the Historical Jesus and His Redemptive Message of Hope and Reconciliation during the Christian Holy Week

Jesus, a Man of Color: Rethinking about the Color of the Historical Jesus and His Redemptive Message of Hope and Reconciliation during the Christian Holy Week

The color of Jesus does matter in the present time because it could help reshape Christian theology and transform Christian churches in the 21st century, and enhance interfaith dialogue between Abrahamaic and non-Abrahamaic religions. Jesus’ skin color bears tremendous implications on how we should now rethink about theology and race, Christianity and the problem of the color line in the modern world, God’s relationship with the poor, the oppressed, and people of color, and how we should treat those who live in the margins of society.

If one believes that religion can be used as a potential tool to enhance the conundrum of race and ethnicity in the modern world, then Jesus’ non-European flesh matters. If one is persuaded that a non-racialized Christianity and Jesus can help improve racial reconciliation and harmony among Christians of different racial and ethnic background, then Jesus’ skin color is extremely important. If one is convinced that Jesus’ dark body matters, it could potentially be used instrumentally to ameliorate ecumenical conversations between people of different religious persuasions on the planet.

Let’s not spiritualize Jesus’ historical human flesh! Let’s not undermine the important fact that Jesus was a historical person, a Palestinian first-century Jew, and a man of color who chose to live among the oppressed, the poor, and the outcast of the Jewish Diaspora. He was not a white male as traditionally depicted in the American and Western media, and taught in religious, seminary, and divinity schools, and theological textbooks. He certainly did not have any European features nor has he any European ancestors. To affirm these truths is to take seriously the practical and sociological dimensions of Christianity and the Christian message.

To spiritualize the historical Jesus merely as a divine being without taking into account of his true humanity is to undermine his true identity as a person of color. To acknowledge Jesus’ true skin color and ethnicity is the first act of decolonizing Christian theology and an important move forward toward a theology of liberation and a decolonial turn in theological anthropology. Finally, to affirm Jesus’ non-European body is to dewesternize Christianity and Christian theology. Critical theological discourse always involves the process of rethinking about what we believe and practice, and why we believe what we confess and do.

Unfortunately, the Westernized Jesus has been used in the past both in the tragic times of slavery and Western colonization as a tool to make people suffer, to humiliate non-European people, and dehumanize the image of God in humanity. The Christian churches in the twenty-first century cannot continue to stay silent about these pivotal issues that have changed the world, transformed the dynamics and human relations between Western and non-Western people, and continue to have a devastating impact on Christian missions, evangelism, and the message of the Gospel in the world. Followers of Christ are repairers of bridges and light of the world.

The Christian message of Easter affirms that God has raised Jesus from the Dead. The Easter story is a message of repentance and reconciliation, hope and resistance, and love and peace. It is also a profound reflection on the humanity and Jesus’ physical body which God has vindicated. The Easter message is also a message of God’s universal love for humanity: men and women, male and female, the homosexual, the lesbian, the transgender, the disable, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, people of all color, people of all ethnic group. Easter speaks loudly about God’s unconditional love for the world and all people!

The Jesus Christians everywhere in the world confess as both Savior and Lord was a real human being who was self-conscious about his own ethnic identity as a person of color of Jewish background. He was also self-conscious about his underrepresented social class in the first-century Jewish Diaspora and Palestine.

The historical Jesus proclaimed a message of reconciliation and love between people of different social classes, of competing religious persuasions, and of individuals of different ethnic identity and background. Through his message of love and acceptance, he was determined to dispel the ideology of ethnic superiority—what we may call in the twenty-first century society racial heritage and racial supremacy. The message of this same Jesus, a person of color who is the Savior and Lord of White, Black, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Native Americans, Latino/a, and male and female Christians, provides meaningful lessons and wisdom to help us rethink critically about our common humanity, can help us break down the high racial, gender, and ethnic walls in contemporary Christianity and churches, and improve the human condition in the world.

Moreover, I believe that there are both creative and strategic ways to diminish the power and influence of structural racism in our society and the modern world. There is nothing “essential” about one’s racial identity, designation, or category; if this logical reasoning is valid or justifiable, then we do not need to wait for the great eschatological moment of the Christ or the future life…to work through our racial conflict or to dismantle the power of structural racism in our society. I believe we can undo race! There are equally important human factors that intersect with human racial identity (or racial identities) and shape the human experience in this world; these things include gender, sexuality, culture, ideological worldviews, economics, even religious and political identification. I would contend further that one of the devastating factors contributing to the conundrum of racism in our culture and the modern world is that we have miserably cultivated a low view of humanity and love. At the moment, our collective view of anthropology and love is defective and “messed up.”

Hence, potentially, a more constructive conversation about race and racism must begin with the fundamental question of what it means to be human and to love one another. We would have to deal honestly and responsibly with the existential dimensions of love, which bears substantial implications on human relations and our shared or common humanity. We can learn from Jesus as a person of color who has modeled for us a positive view of humanity/anthropology by intentionally promoting the dignity of all people including the Jew and the non-Jew (i.e. the Samaritan, for example), male and female, the religious and the non-religious. I would argue that the life of Jesus has provided the most useful resources, and meaningful life lessons and strategic methods to recreate a more inclusive, constructive, redeeming, holistic, and optimistic anthropology.

Jesus’ earthly interactions with people—both Jews and non-Jews—and his compassion toward men and women—the rich, the poor, the widow, the oppressed, the leper, the disable— (Yet, Jesus gave special attention to the outcast, the poor, and the disheartened) also provide effective resources to dismantle the power of race in contemporary world. Jesus’ theological anthropology was rooted in the social (lived-) experiences and lived-worlds of the people, as he was conscious about the socio-economic, and political dimensions that have stained the image of God in humanity. In the example of Jesus, we need to foster a view of humanity that is more dignified, inclusive, tolerant, and egalitarian. I suppose the modern conversation about race and racism in both intellectual and popular circles in the American society are missing these vital elements.

In the same line of thought, Christians and Christian churches have failed to respond appropriately to the crisis of race and its related problems because most of the churches in America are plateaued and are not applying the principles of Jesus to deal with life existential issues and to bring healing and comfort to the poor, the oppressed, the disfranchised individual, etc.

On the other hand, as a theologian, I must acknowledge there is indeed a theological aspect of race and racism, as the latter is a clear reflection of human depravity and our shortcoming to love God and our neighbor unconditionally and unreservedly. Racism is in fact a profound theological crisis; it is also an inevitable demonstration of the dark side of humanity. Nonetheless, the disposition in our hearts to sin and not to love another person as we’re supposed to is not an excuse to be racist, for example. We all need to be responsible for our actions and social sins, and make necessary amends or reparations for them. However, God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ made it possible for humanity to achieve redemption in Christ.

The Easter message is also a story about God’s (and Christian) victory over sin and death. It gives us a reason to hang on in this life of uncertainty and despair. Easter is about hope, reconciliation, and love. By consequence, what are/should be the implications of the message of Easter for those whose humanity has been disvalued in our society? What are/should be the implications of the Easter message for the tremendous problem of racial reconciliation and harmony in Christian churches and our society? What are/should be the implications of the message of Easter for the problem of pain, suffering, and global terrorism in the modern world? What are/should be the implications of the Easter message for those who have the political, economic, and religious power and influence over people and to change the present and future worlds?

Happy Resurrection Day!

Rev. Dr. Celucien L. Joseph

President

Hope for Today Outreach

“God, the Poor, and Generous Justice” by Dr. Joseph

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—when you already have it with you.” — Proverbs 3:27-28

“God, the Poor, and Generous Justice” by Dr. Joseph

In Part 1 of the Three-Part series entitled “God, the Poor, and Generous Justice,” Dr. Joseph discusses some biblical texts that reveal God’s heart for the poor and attitude toward justice and economic justice. The same way God remembers the poor and the oppressed, followers of Christ are called to diligently serve the poor and the needy, and to remember the unfortunate and the underprivileged in our churches, communities, and the world at large. Further, Dr. Joseph invites us to consider five biblical and theological principles that encourage and ultimately urge Christians to be engaged in social outreach and social justice ministries, and to empower and care for the poor and the needy; this attitude is a reflection of God’s character and the loving message of the Gospel.