“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Simply put, Micah 6:8 describes in part, how to go about practically living out the two greatest commands. To love God and love our neighbor — acting justly, loving mercy, and walking with God. Each statement in its fullest measure would be a picture of obedience to those commands. How we choose to represent this issue of “Neighbor Love” in our daily lives is a key marker of our allegiance (or lack of) to our Lord Jesus (John 13:34-35).
But can we fully engage in neighbor love if we do not identify with our neighbor?
Can we fully identify with our neighbor if we choose not to understand their plight? Can we fully understand their plight if we choose to remain locked into our ways of seeing the world? No. No. And, no.
I’m young enough for the Central Park 5 of ‘89 case and Los Angeles riots of ‘92 as the first public social justice issues I can recall. Since then who can count how many we’ve seen publicly? From border to border and coast to coast, time after time, death after death. This became a personal issue of injustice for me due to profiling when I had to plead ‘guilty’ to a violent charge I did not commit, because otherwise I faced conviction of greater charges. That was the counsel I received from the juvenile court judge.
But this one seems different.
(From email blast, devotion is continued below)
How so? Well, nearly every major American city has had its share of protests and demonstrations. The violence is not new, but the spread of it at the same time seems to be. What stands out most to me, is that we’re hearing more whites voices. Not just younger folks, or the people who’ve done so regularly, but a larger composition. There is an exponential difference in the unified public outrage of this latest incident. We witnessed a fellow neighbor, a human being, with God’s image stamped on him, die in plain view, while under the knee of police officer, who seemed to be so calloused of soul, he could not remove himself even after the man was motionless. There was no escaping the truth, no excuses, no accusations that officers’ lives were in danger. Just one man killing another for all to see.
The horrific brutality was in plain sight for all to see.
We saw. We heard. We felt. We cannot deny. There is a problem and something has to change. The heartfelt outrage quickly escalated to violence and unproductive behavior. But in the words of a white pastor from St. Paul,“When you or a loved one CAN’T BREATH and the white folks who have their knee on your neck won’t believe you or relieve your suffering, you might begin to act irrationally, if not violently” The statement uses the incident to describe centuries of systemic injustice toward a particular community by a particular community.
A “particular community?”
Can we say the black community? Can we say they’ve had the knee of white supremacy on their neck for 400+ years? If we are to act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God (love God and love our neighbor), we have to call things as they are, even if it causes us some sacrifice or harm, some loss of some sort of gain or status. We must be truthful about what is real, especially when it has its knee on the neck of our neighbor. Why do we need to be truthful about what is real?
Because the God we serve is. Especially when it involves injustice and oppression of the disadvantaged.
The stream of God’s mercy and justice for the poor and marginalized is clear from Genesis to Revelation. He’s continually on their side. From being the “refuge” and “protection” of “the oppressed” and “working for their justice” (Ps. 9:9, 103:6), to his commands that “justice” needs to be provided “to the poor”, and provided “impartially” and “without perversion” (Ex. 23:6, Lev. 19:15).
This was a mark of loving God and loving neighbor that broken people and their systems seemed to forget time after time, generation after generation.
But because God isn’t neutral, he doesn’t let it slide.
He says through the prophet Isaiah (1:17) “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed” and in Amos 5:15, “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.”
There are literally hundreds of references and they lead up to Jesus presenting himself in that faithful Nazarene temple quoting and fulfilling the prophetic voice of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free… (Luke 4:18)
Jesus came to be clear about what God was really like (John 14:9). In doing so, He revealed that one of the primary areas of God’s unashamed concern was the poor and oppressed. Societal hierarchy leading to injustice was a clear symptom of a backwards, sin-sick world. And, Jesus would not refrain from exposing it. He would grow up and identify with the lower ranks of His society, would speak truth, welcome the “unwelcomed,” express God’s love and care toward the “unlovable and unacceptable,” speak boldly toward the keepers of religious truth. Jesus clearly was not concerned with not disrupting the status quo.
Jesus was not neutral.
He shared a message that would level the playing field in society. It’s a message that would, in just a few short years, bring women, children and Gentiles into previously unattainable positions of honor. To paraphrase and summarize our Lord, he said, in God’s kingdom, you’re accepted, unconditionally, because I made you and love you as you are. I died to redeem you and empower you to also die to many things in this world. Die to long-standing lies about hierarchical status and social acceptance. Die to long- standing lies about what measures the value and worth of your neighbor. Die to long-standing lies about the value and worth you see in yourself. Die to the kingdom of this world in all that it entails, and receive true life, which I alone will give.”
The Church must follow Her Lord: We cannot be neutral either.
The naming of structural systems that are servants of the dark powers and forces in our world must be recognized and named. Those systems are to be abolished in Jesus’ name and with the power of His Spirit, using the weapons of our kingdom: prayer, Christian unity, speaking the truth in love, and when necessary, non-violent resistance to oppressive systems. We can look to our past to see examples of this work being done in the name of Christ — William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu and so many more.
What will we have to die to and suffer in order to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” How far will we have to go truly love our neighbor, our neighbor with a different color skin than us, our neighbor who’s had a heavy knee on their neck for generations?
Let us truly identify with our neighbor by first identifying with their reality. Enter into their grief and pain. Bear the burden of their struggle as much as we can and allowing that to compel us to action.
Then we will be loving God and loving our Neighbor. Then, we will be acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our Maker and Redeemer.
Then we will be recognized as followers of the God who is not neutral, but identifies with the broken, the lowly and the despised in our world.
Lord Jesus, may our hearts break for the things that break yours…Amen.
Written by Eloy Gonzalez, Manager of Ministry Engagement at Building Hope in the City