As is fitting with the last few months in particular (not that this is a new thing), I’ve continued to wrestle through the concepts of equality, oppression, values, and rights. I’ve thought as a politician, a philosopher, an anthropologist, an American citizen, and as a human being a part of one big world.
I naturally love to pick things apart, analyze the different angles of those pieces, and then try to get to the root. I don’t do well with boxes and borders and I easily feel stifled and suffocated with structures. I’m not a traditionalist at heart. It doesn’t appeal to me to do things a certain way “because that’s how they’ve always been done.” Therefore, new ideas excite me. Pushing back appeals to me. Analyzing and critiquing is fun to me. But, I am not subject to my most natural tendencies and even my instinctual reactions.
I seek not to be these things and a Christian, I seek to be these things as a Christian. I want to filter my tendencies with the end goal being to represent Christ well. I want to both utilize and deny my tendencies based off of my obedience to, and love for, Him.
How quickly we compartmentalize ourselves. How easy it is to separate our own identities into political parties, denominations, roles, and titles. We keep them in nice compartments and they do not collide into one whole person. That is not the way identity in Christ works. Instead, it must permeate into all we do and think and say and are.
So, as a Christian, I have to ask myself (as cliche and simple as it sounds) what did Jesus do and think and say about all of these things? To answer simply, I don’t know. I don’t know the direct answers to each of these current cultural and complex issues. Even though we don’t always find the easy “yes” and “no” answers we sometimes look for in the Bible, there are things we do know. As Jen Wilkins says ” Its (the Bible’s) aim is to change our hearts so that we desire what God desires, rather than to spoon-feed us answers to every decision in life.”
And so far in my wrestlings I have found that the “answer” (which is much more about where our heart is at) seems a whole lot more paradoxical than I would prefer. If I were being honest I would say it’s not the answer I really wanted to hear.
In the past few years especially, I have scoffed at various double standards, I have resented many cultural norms, I have witnessed the marginalized who just wanted to be treated like everyone else, and I have deeply mourned over the sexual objectification of women. These things, and more, hit close to home. The voices of resentment, anger, and bitterness call. My heart screams, “that’s not fair!” Justice is suddenly so appealing. But then I look up and see the cross. And when I see the cross, and see the life leading up to the cross, I see two things.
I see a defender who fought for others.
I see savior who died to self.
Jesus was a defender of the weak, the oppressed, the lowly, and the despised. It wouldn’t take much reading of the gospels to see this. Jesus shook up cultural norms constantly.
He took time to talk to a woman at a well- #1 men didn’t address women without their husbands #2 Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans #3 She was looked down on as immoral even among Samaritans. #4 He was a rabbi. He embraced and upheld children- who his own disciples tried to disregard and dismiss. He ate with tax collectors- who were despised by others because of their reputation. He touched and healed those with diseases- who others avoided.
From a manager to a cross, he chose to use unlikely things and see unnoticed people. But he didn’t do it just to be a rebel. He did it because He loved. He cared. He loved and cared enough to stay, to listen, to heal, to defend, to protect, and even to save as he breathed his last breath.
Fighting for the oppressed wasn’t a new idea. It wasn’t just what Jesus did. We see this theme all over the Bible from start to finish. In Isaiah God instructs the people, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case of the widow.” And after Jesus’ life on earth James tells believers that part of true religion to God is to look after orphans and widows.
In following Jesus’ example, and the heart beat of the Bible, we need to have a keen eye on the truly oppressed and vulnerable among us and fight for them accordingly. We need to stop dismissing them. We need to cultivate compassion towards them and fight with passion for them. We need to stop letting culture define how we see and treat people. We need to see that all human beings hold equal value and worth. And we need to do something about it when others don’t see it.
But! Here is the kicker. Jesus did not come to fight for himself.
We need to examine our hearts and see if we are really fighting for the well being of others, or just grasping for self-rights.
He did not come to repay evil for evil or to retaliate. In fact, the message he came to proclaim was the exact opposite. Jesus did not let the feelings of weakness or inferiority or lowliness dictate the way he lived. He subjected himself. He served. He submitted. He gave. He knowingly allowed people to look at him and treat him as less than he was worth. If anyone deserved respect and honor, it was Him. Yet he chose to become a man. He didn’t have a place to sleep. He worked as a carpenter. He washed feet. And he humbled himself to the point of death on a humiliating cross.
Instead of the jeweled crown of a king He received the thorny crown of an imposter. The lips that should have been praising him were spitting on him. He heard the voices of belittlement, betrayal, and mockery. He wasn’t treated as equal to God, and He wasn’t even treated as equal to man.
He didn’t hold resentment. He didn’t lash out in anger. He didn’t try to prove himself. Instead, He did the unthinkable. In the midst of humiliation and degradation He prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
He loved. He forgave. He died to self in the most literal way.
So while holding these two truths in tension I pray for the wisdom to know how it is to look in my day to day life. Is it wrong to ever fight for myself? To stand up and speak out? I don’t know all the answers. There is a place to draw lines, to leave harmful people, to protect our own lives and hearts, and to see our own worth.
But Christians, through the wondering and wrestling and seeking, let’s keep looking to Jesus. The one who had every right in the world, yet gave them up willingly. For you. For me. For the glory set before Him. Let’s look at the cross and see the scandalous beauty of fighting for others yet dying to self!