What do you think?
by Olivia Hudson Smith
The Council of the Presbytery of Denver recently voted to join the initiative of the Presbytery Mission Agency to become a Matthew 25 mid-council. The vision calls for the PCUSA to engage in the world so that our faith comes alive and we are awakened to new possibilities. We live into the vision by engaging together in three works, vitalizing our congregations, dismantling structural racism, and eradicating poverty. Council is discerning what this means and how it will shape the mission and ministry going forward.
Familiar to most, Micah 6:6-8, is the prophetic proclamation to the children of Israel and to all God’s children of what is God’s will for those created in his image, living into God’s purpose for creation, is “but to do justice, and love kindness, and to with walk humbly with your God”. The question for all of us as faithful disciples is how God’s justice, not human justice, is carried out in loving kindness with humility before God. What is our faithful witness to our belief in our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ?
In a recent Bible Study, we reflected on justice issues throughout the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In defining justice, we turned to the Dictionary of Theological Term. Justice, which I would term God’s justice is defined as “the concept of each person receiving what is due. Biblically, the emphasis is on right relationships and persons receiving a share of the resources of the society. Concern is expressed for the oppressed and their right treatment. God’s Justice is related to love and grace”. Social Justice is defined as “The recognition of the rights and obligations of individuals and a society. Full participation is a goal. Exclusion and marginalization become forms of social injustice.”
God’s justice requires us to be in ministry with and give witness to the oppressed, to welcome the stranger, knowing that there are none who are strangers to God the creator of all. God’s justice requires that we ensure that all in the kin-dom have the necessities to live life abundantly. God’s justice demands that all people have adequate food, shelter, clothing, and water, access to equal heath care, and live in a community of care whether imprisoned by systemic policies, or those relegated to spiritual, emotional, or mental isolation. God demands that those whom God created in God’s own image live out our purpose by serving and protecting those deemed by society as others, the most vulnerable in the worldwide community.
In the backdrop of today’s Gospel message, Jesus, in his last days of earthly ministry, had just made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The people welcomed him with shouts of joy in recognition of what he had done for the people. They believe that he is the Messiah. Even the tax collectors and prostitutes, the others believed. Upon entry into Jerusalem, Jesus headed to the center of Jewish religious life, the temple, driving out those buying and selling, overturned the tables of money changers and the seats of those selling doves. Jesus proclaimed that his house shall be a house of prayers but the actions of those seeking economic benefit had turned it into a den of robbers. Jesus then proceed to carry out kin-dom work curing the blind and the lame who come to him in the temple.
What in the world is this itinerate preacher doing? By what authority does he dare to enter the temple, disrupt the economic system, and then to the amazement of the chief priests and scribes, perform miracles healing the physically infirmed?
We cannot honor country over God, or align ourselves with systems and policies that cause some of God’s children to be oppressed, living without adequate and equitable access to nutritious food, or safe and sanitary shelter, equal health care, clean air to breath or water to drink.
When Jesus returned to the temple to teach, the chief priests and now the elders questioned Jesus. They wanted to know by what authority he acted and who gave him that authority. Jesus could have easily answered by God’s authority, but as Jesus does throughout scripture, rather than reply to questioning, he poses a question to those who question. A question designed to flush out, to reveal, true beliefs. In comparing himself to John the Baptizer, in whom the chief priests and elders did not believe, and did not heed his message of repentance of sin, turn away from evil, and turn toward God, Jesus pointed to the true mark of God’s reign. Jesus shared John’s conviction, that the children of God are not necessarily those born into the right family or running in the right circles or saying the right words. Jesus offers the parable of the two sons or a better translation for sons in Greek – tekna/teknon – is children, one who when directed to work in the vineyard answered defiantly, “I will not” but later changes his mind, and one child when directed to work in the vineyard says yes, but does not go. “What do you think?” “Which of the two did the will of the father?” What matter here is not what is said, what matters is doing of the father’s will. It is the application of our faith that matters, that serves the will of God of all creation. We have all been and will all be both children. Repentance of the latter is preferable to the hypocrisy of the former. Jesus asserts that it is the priority of righteous deeds over righteous words that is the foundation for a life of faith.
We are not bifurcated human beings, we cannot separate our faith, our belief in our Lord and Savior, from our actions when faced with the realities of our communities, the oppression of our sisters and brothers in the world. We cannot honor country over God, or align ourselves with systems and policies that cause some of God’s children to be oppressed, living without adequate and equitable access to nutritious food, or safe and sanitary shelter, equal health care, clean air to breath or water to drink. We cannot exist, coexist with our fellow creation, in loving kindness in a wilderness of division and evil, in exploitive systems that disenfranchises many while others flourish while turning a blind eye to the suffering around them. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” What matters is that we recognize our own frailty in our actions, recognize our own need to repent and make changes in our lives both individually and collectively as worshipping communities to be vital, living into the will of God. People of faith must act on the Jesus Christ that is in us to do the will of our living and present God in the vineyards of this world to eradicate the vitriolic rhetoric, the hateful divisions, the inequitable systems and structures, the suffering of those who are denied the basic necessities of abundant life, to bring about a new order in God’s kin-dom that inures to all God’s beloved creation.
Friends, we are not a people of despair or fear even in times of uncertainty. We are a people of Hope, the creation of a loving God, full of Grace and Mercy. As God speaks to humanity through the prophet Isaiah, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
May it be so. Let us pray:
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.
Our Creator and Savior help us to remember who we are and whose we are. Help us find the courage to say yes to your will for all of creation.
Give us hearts and minds to do justice, love kindness, to walk humbly with you as we work in the vineyards of your planting, serving those who hunger and thirst for your love, mercy, justice and compassion through our lives as your children.