On November 24, 2009

Emmaus and Social Justice

So one of my good friends wrote a blog recently about how to be a Jesus follower in a world that is deeply broken. It’s a great post, written by someone who has crossed socio-economic lines, and has the ability to communicate to both worlds. One of the observations he makes is that privileged Christians should make it a spiritual discipline to notice the brokenness around them.

He does a good job not demonizing wealthy Christians, but challenging us to look past our own self-inflicted boundaries. And he does it with this question: “Study and try to find a way that the system is broken without having to experience it.”

I saw a story on CNN this past weekend about a girl who was from another country who was promised a modeling job if she just came to the U.S.A. to work. She came, and immediately had her passport taken away and told that she had to work off $25,000 worth of debt before she could be a model.

And you probably know what kind of work they had in mind.

One of the people interviewed said that this happened all the time. It’s all around us, but no one was paying attention.

Did you know that 12 million people are considered by the U.S. State Department to be in slavery? And that 14,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year? Slavery is happening all around us.

But when was the last time you’ve seen a slave?

One of my favorite gospel stories comes at the end of Luke. The Disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. Crest-fallen, heart-broken, whatever words you want to use, they were deeply, deeply broken. Their hope, the one who was going to set the world right, had become a victim of the very systems he was speaking against. 

And so they’re all headed home.

But then the risen Jesus comes along side these disciples and they don’t recognize him. It’s a bizarre scene. They just want to cry alone, and here they are having to give directions to some country bumpkin who can’t tell when someone’s depressed. But this “stranger” refuses to leave them alone. He prods until they unearth the very thing that was the most tender to them, and then something even more strange happens.

Their eyes were opened and they saw the “stranger” was Jesus.

I’d like to tell you about how they thought Jesus was just a common beggar, who saw some people walking and was trying to ask for money out of those who had enough resources to travel.* I’d like to tell you about how their “eyes being opened” was a footnote of a story of disobedience in a Garden in the beginning. But the main point of this story is that these people were right next to Jesus, and for a while they didn’t even know.

Mark Twain once said, “I cannot see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious — unless he purposely shut the eyes of his mind & keep them shut by force.”

And to some extent I can see what he’s saying. Religion can do this. It can close us off, build walls to keep us in, and others out. But a genuine Christian faith has to refuse this, because central to our faith is a God who is opening our eyes.

We notice people because we follow a man who did. And not only did he notice them. He identified with them. And so maybe the call of Jesus is to start paying better attention. Look at that clothing tag before you buy that next shirt. Ask harder questions. Look past the parts of the world that work for you and ask who it’s not working for.

And while it must not stop with our noticing, it must begin there. Because in looking for others, we find Jesus.

*Jesus’ disciples were quite used to this occurring e.g. Mark 10:46-47

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  • Phil

    Jonathan,

    These are great words to continue to process as we encounter the brokenness of a world on a daily basis. One of the things that have been on my heart a lot is the pain and the brokenness one can feel when you do notice. And I think because you notice, you enter the first stage of “suffering with.”

    I have been really concentrating a lot of my prayer time to “notice;” “to see the world as he sees it.” And I got to tell you man, my heart has been really, really heavy lately. It’s been heavy because I listen to their stories, I see their brokenness, I detect the hopelessness in their voices, and it breaks my heart; first, because I hear their brokenness, but second because I don not have the resources to solve all of their problems. And you know what I realize; I realize Jesus could have eliminated all the oppression if that’s the kind of messiah he wanted to become. He had the power to solve the problems of the broken people.

    We read in the gospels that he had compassion for the crowds. Imagine being able to hear the brokenness of hundreds a week, the imagine having the power to “fix” all their problems but not doing so because the father’s way was focused on something else. Can you imagine how heavy Christ’s heart must have been? No wonder he had to withdraw to a solitary place to be alone; no wonder he weeps over the city.

    To notice is, I think where it begins, but it can be painful man.

  • http://westcoastwitness.com/ Wes Woodell

    Check this out: http://www.sfgate.com/sextrafficking/

    Four articles linked there on sex slavery in San Francisco. The Chines Mafia and Japenese Yakuza are very active here, and this is how they make a large percentage of their income.

  • http://www.stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Phil, that sounds like a powerful prayer. I’m glad to be a partner in the gospel with someone like you. Thanks for weighing in brother!

    Wes, man I always love the links you post on here in response. You have my vote for King of the internet. It’s a sad, repeated story all over the world. Thanks for bringing these stories to our attention brother.