Justice vs. Charity, What Would Jesus Say? – A Reflection on Mission Today

While I was in the states I had lunch with lovely group of people connected to All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena CA. Our conversation centered on how we, in our various life sages and professions, can best represent Christ and the love he had for people in this world. During our conversation Juliana, the director if community connections at All Saints, raised the issue of charity vs. justice. Though inherently something in her resisted a charity model she felt like our faith stories endorse ‘mercy ministry.’ While I fully support mercy I think the interpretation of these acts of Christ as charitable (in our understanding of the word) is incomplete. Take for example the store below when Jesus heals a leper.

And when he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And behold, there came to him a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou made clean. And straightway his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. (Matthew 8:1-4 ASV)
At first glance this could be seen as charity or a mercy ministry because Jesus is taking part in what gets lumped into healing, feeding, helping ministries. He is not advocating for better service provision for lepers, at first glance performing a simple act of charity. However, when we examine its context it’s not just a physical healing it is a cleansing but a restoration to just and equal treatment for this man.
Lepers were outcasts, untouchables, removed from the city center and the temple. In a society that believed God existed in the walls of the temple this restricted their ability to see or experience the power of god in the way the majority of people were permitted to do. In healing this man Christ not only addresses his physical ailment he destroys the bonds of separation society has created and affirms the truth that we are equal.
Most of the work we do as people of faith misses this essential step in modeling the transformative life of Christ. We help by dropping off old clothes or ladling out soup from behind a counter. We refuse to take the actions would bring the beggar, the one in rags, our untouchables into positions of power. Reconciliation is a mutual adaptation, one to another … it is not enough to make it better for ‘them’ we must work until they become us; until we are one.
At lunch on Tuesday the four of us dreamed of programs that reverse this painful separation. Kim is committing to living a year of her life in intentional awareness about how her life can negatively affect creation. Juliana is working with a team to develop transformative ministry at All Saints.
And Don, Don was wonderful. At 80 Don still journeys to Malawi to be part of the work to end the spread of HIV. His work in Malawi support the need for community leadership and honoring the capacity of the local community to be active partners in healing Malawi. He knows he’s not doing it perfectly but he is committed to changing their programs until they get it right. In doing so, Don is a beacon of a new way of being in the US us, he is an example of what it means to be open and pliable. His folks in Malawi, associated with an organization called GAIA are possibly attending Tatua Kenya’s summer gathering this year to explore community organizing as a tool for their work.
These efforts are beginning to challenge the idea that helping is enough. It makes me hopeful, real change is possible. However it requires that we examine, with open hearts, the example of Christ. This will be hard but if a 80 yr old man can do it… so can you.

Sawa Tu.


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