• Does the cross of Jesus have anything to do with social justice?

    Posted by John

    20 April, 2011

    The story of the cross.....It's a familiar story to many. We retell it at least once each year at Easter. Jesus of Nazareth, who many believed to be the long-awaited Messiah-king of the Jewish nation, who himself claimed to be the Son of Yahweh, carries his own cross to the place they called Golgotha - the place of the skull. There they crucified him.

    It's the stuff of history...by that I don't just mean history books...but actual history. This real life event has defined history ever since. It has certainly defined my history and my story.

    There are so many things that happen in churches - so many causes that demand our attention. In the midst of all the activity, it's right that we focus on this story at this time of year. But it would be a mistake to think that focusing on this story means putting our concern for the poor and for social justice on the shelf for a week. It would be a mistake to presume that Easter is all about grace and salvation and not about action for justice and mercy.

    Two brief stories might help explain what I mean. Both are from one day I spent in South Africa a number of years ago.

    I began the day in the city centre of Pietermaritzburg, just outside Durban. As we walked through town I sat down next to a young girl, perhaps 10 years old, dirty and dishevelled. As we talked it became apparent that she had recently made a commitment herself to follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour. She had professed her new faith to her family. As a result, her father, a man who held to a different faith, had thrown her out of home to fend for herself on the streets.

    Later that day we visited a high security juvenile prison. We had some time to talk with inmates before running a service of sorts in the prison. A colleague of mine retold this Easter story and invited the young men to make a response. As I looked out at the hands raised to indicate a decision made to follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour, I noticed that one of the hands belonged to a man who just moments before had told me that he was in prison for raping and beating a young woman. It made me feel uncomfortable.

    One story about a victim of injustice. One story about a perpetrator of injustice.
    And then there is my story - and yours - and each of those stories has 2 sides because I, like you, am both a victim and a perpetrator of injustice. I am both sinner and sinned against.

    The wonder of the Easter story is that it is, at one and the same time, good news for both of these people and it is good news for me. It is good news for both the victim of injustice and the perpetrator of injustice.

    Justice and mercy shouldn't make sense together. Yet the wonder of the cross is that justice and mercy make perfect sense together. They come together perfectly in this one event. In this one event Jesus chooses to satisfy God's unquenchable thirst for justice by his own sacrifice, and at the same time offers mercy to sinners and perpetrators of injustice. In the resurrection moment Jesus overcame evil and instituted a new reality, one of hope and life in all its fullness. In one and the same Easter story, God responds to injustice and establishes justice.

    So, I invite you to join me this week in thanking Jesus for the reality of the first Easter. Don't make the mistake of thinking the cross has nothing to do with our work for justice. In fact, our work for justice makes no sense without it.

    And you would be mistaken to think that the cross is 33% grace, 33% justice and 33 % mercy. No, it's 100% grace, 100% justice and 100% mercy. The math doesn't add up, but that's the wonder of the cross.


    John Beckett (known to most of us as JB) is the National Coordinator of Micah Challenge Australia. JB holds a Masters in Theology from Regent College in Canada. He now lives in Sydney with his beautiful wife Allie and baby daughter Molly.

    JB desires to see more and more Christians taking on justice, mercy and humility as a way of life and speaking, praying and acting for and with the global poor.