TRA Wordtalks

The Radical Social Reformer
30/98 13/9/98 Scripture: Mark 12:13-17

INDIA and Pakistan celebrated their 50th year of independence from the British Empire last year. We remember the work of Mahatma Gandhi who led the non-violent revolution. This thin man in the loin cloth, led hundreds of thousands of Indians in the great salt marches as a non-violent protest against British rule. He was a radical social reformer who copied the non-violent methods of Jesus.

Mary spoke just after the conception of Jesus, of the revolutionary impact her Christ-child would have. Her song of praise during her pregnancy is called the Magnificat from the first word in the Latin translation. This is a parallel with the song of Hannah. (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Mary shared the same feelings as Hannah who dedicated her son, Samuel, to the Lord. God was starting a revolution!
God's personal revolution (Luke 1:46-47)

`And Mary said: `My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.'' God was working within her. She could feel the changes. Mary was the first of millions of people who believed in Jesus Christ as God's Son, and found God was working a revolution within. That personal revolution was launched one starry night in Bethlehem. That personal revolution changed people, the conditions of the world, and their future more than anything else in all history. That baby growing within her was the One who would change the world throughout the next two thousand years. God was changing people and through them the world.
God's moral revolution (Luke 1:46-51)

`God has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.' One new translation says: `The arrogant of heart and mind He has put to rout.' Jesus was to show God's great moral revolution in a new standard of behaviour and a new example of conduct towards each other. From now on humility was to count rather than pride, and love was to count rather than force.

The teaching of Jesus on humility was revolutionary. People are proud and arrogant. The higher up they go the more they look down on others. But when Christ comes within a person this is changed. For pride in self, and love for Christ can not dwell in one person. When Jesus called Simon Peter, the big fisherman was at work. He was a good fisherman, big and strong, an acknowledged leader. He was proud of his position and reputation. Then he met Jesus! His pride cracked. He fell down on his knees and cried `Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.' Christ came, pride went.

This was revolutionary teaching: humility was greater than pride.
Christ's teaching on love was revolutionary. Even now this is still too revolutionary for most people. Jesus said the way to treat those who hated you or persecuted you was to love them out of it. But we are too scared to try this today. He said: `You have heard that it was said `You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy,' but I say to you `Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'' Here was God's moral revolution: humility would be greater than pride, and love greater than might, and Mary foretold it.

God's social revolution (Luke 1:52)

Mary told of a social revolution when God put `down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.' How often do you hear that the Church should stick with religion and have nothing to do with social issues, politics, or economics? God does not agree. God is concerned for spiritual life but also for the social and economic as well. The prophets thundered against the evils of their day. Amos preached against cruel economic policy, drunkenness, sexual immorality, low standard housing, and the rising cost of living for the poor.

With Jesus came God's great social revolution. My Theological College Principal Mr. E. Lyall Williams said: `The witness of the Church includes the task of prophetic witness in the case of wrong, of declaring the will of God in personal and domestic affairs, and also no less clearly in our corporate life as nations, in business, politics, culture, and religion.' Our world needs God's word. When we give to Caesar what is his, and to God what is due to Him, we will cause a social revolution in the society. We reject politics which throw people on the scrap heap unemployed. We reject racial prejudice. We reject both socialism and capitalism. God intends a new social revolution.

God's economic revolution (Luke 1:53)

Mary said: `God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.' In a secular society each is out to get what he can for himself. A Christian society is one where no-one dares to have too much while others have too little. God's economic revolution aims at creating a society where we all are our brother's keeper, where we share each other's burdens, and help the needy.
A Christian society gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, hospitality to strangers, companionship to the sick, comfort to the prisoners, and love to our neighbour. These things can be done by each of us now. God's economic revolution has already seen much achieved, but there is still much to do.
God's spiritual revolution. Luke 1:54-55.

Mary further said: `He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.' He still blesses us. Under Christians who have believed these revolutionary things, many immoral practices of the community have stopped, infanticide has ended, slavery is outlawed, hospitals, schools, missions, factory acts, pensions, sick benefits - almost every improvement in the moral, social, and economical realm of the last 2000 years has come from the work of crusading Christians.

The church needs to be recalled to its revolutionary charter. We need to be rebellious against unemployment, poverty, homelessness, racism, sexism, immorality of every kind. God's will is for revolutionary social changes. Mary saw her holy infant would be the means of radical change for the better. We must work with Him for the changes.

Jesus demonstrated radical social change through acceptance of women and their contribution to God's work. He demonstrated egalitarianism in table fellowship by inviting all to sit and eat with Him. He refused to become a village patron, instead as a wandering preacher and healer He went to all.

This social ethic is a reason for the growth of the early church. In the early centuries, women cared for destitute babies and orphans. Christians knocked on poor people's doors and offered to move in to nurse the sick, deliberately exposing themselves to illness. They shared their rooms and food, though not their marriage beds. They were indistinguishable by speech or clothing but different in their conduct and character. We do not need new technologies to be an effective church. We need a rediscovery of this vision and energy, compassion and morality.

Many in the elite class in Judea, saw Jesus as a threat to their social customs and standing. They saw Him a danger to their established temple practises. They organised His crucifixion. Lord Macleod, of the Iona Community in Scotland wrote: `Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a Cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write the charge against him in three languages at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble because that is where He died and that is what He died about. And that is where churchmen should be and what churchmen should be about.'

This is the conclusion of some scholars. Some argue Jesus was as a radical reformer as were the revolutionary zealots. Yet there is no Biblical evidence to substantiate this. Others see Jesus as a counter-cultural social reformer breaking barriers and bringing change into the life of society.

There is a great deal of Biblical evidence that Jesus proclaimed a new way of living and broke down the social barriers between people. John Dominic Crossan sees the provision of free healing without any commitment to a system of village patronage and His wonderful way of inviting just anybody, male or female, rich or poor round his meal table, as evidence of Jesus being a social reformer. Further, he says, when Jesus healed people, it was not so much their physical disease He was healing, but their social alienation. Richard Horsley sees Jesus as a critic of His society, attacking the Romans for false religion and the priests of Israel for betraying the essence of their faith. Neither group would feature in God's kingdom which would soon transform Israel's social conditions and end Rome's political dominance. His revolution was a grass-roots one, working from the peasants up rather a political revolution working from the top down to overthrow the current regime.

They see Him as the founder of a Galilee peace party. Unlike the other revolutionaries from Galilee, His methods were non-violent. The meek inherit the earth. The peace-makers are blessed. He would establish an egalitarian society where all would have a place, to replace patriarchal oppression (eg Matt 10:34-37; Mark 12:18-27). Discipleship meant casting aside everything for the social revolution.

Yet the theory that Jesus was just a social reformer neither fits the social factors of Galilee nor the Gospel evidence. Jesus was never just a political agitator put to death for His revolutionary message. He was the Lamb of God dying for the sins of the world.

Today we still work for social change in line with the scriptures. Some working for social change want Jesus to baptise their particular ideas. The liberationist, feminist, and homosexual theologians all point to some truth in their theories, but they also fall short of other Christian requirements.
For example, Jesus did not advocate social change which was morally wrong. This is why the homosexual lobby wanting their sexual behaviour approved is wrong in claiming Jesus the social reformer blesses their crusade. The scriptures are clear: homosexual life style is not acceptable to God. It is not a question of homosexuals not understanding the scriptures: they just ignore them. Evangelicals cannot do that. They obey the rules not look for loopholes. Immoral people not only change the goal posts. They discard the rule book.

I have met those who argue that within the Uniting Church they just have a different viewpoint of scripture. I know that. The story was always viewed differently by the wolf than by the three little pigs! Jesus is a social reformer. But Jesus is more! He is both Lord and Saviour! His reforms were always in line with the scriptures and with God's expressed word on morality. Just because some people ignore morality, does not mean that it does not exist. To call Jesus just a social reformer, is to miss entirely His claims to be God's Son, to be the Messiah. It is to ignore the central theme of the Cross and Resurrection. Social reformer? Yes - but more! He is Lord whose word and morality is to be obeyed. He is Christ, whose death and resurrection is to be believed. That is the way God's biggest revolution takes place in our lives.

Gordon Moyes 1998

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