Jesus-Following vs. Social Activism

By Derek Webb 05-15-2008

Claiming to follow Jesus is a ridiculous thing to try and do. He's a really hard guy to follow, especially when he talks about loving the poor, loving our neighbors, and loving those who hate and oppose us. Loving people who love us is sometimes hard enough, but loving our enemies is just counterintuitive. It goes against every instinct in my body. When someone does or seeks to do harm to me or my family, it's my knee-jerk reaction, my default, to return violence with violence. I am violent to the core. To confess anything less would be a dangerous land mine to sneak over.

This is why it's so important to know who Jesus is and what he's asking us to do. And luckily, for our benefit, we have his answer recorded in a historical document. When asked point-blank, "What are the most important things we're commanded to do?" it's curious what Jesus says. And what he doesn't say. He doesn't mention all of the overwhelming issues of morality that we seem to obsess over in the Christian ghetto. He doesn't mention any of the countless issues that are dividing our churches left and right. He says, "Love God and love your neighbors," that, in fact, all of the law and prophets hang on these two commands, and that these are literally the context for all other commands we keep.

This is the work of following Jesus -- to love and care especially for those whom it is difficult. It is therefore never a political position to be on the side of the poor. Working for justice in all areas of society is not peripheral to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus; it is central. His message was not that of the individual salvation of men and women, but of the "being made right of all things." While this certainly includes the stories of men and women, that is such a small part of the whole. It's a story about our families, our environment, our governments, our neighbors, about the whole of what God has made. And proclaiming half the truth as the whole truth is no truth at all.

How do we tell the whole story of the coming reign of God, a new way of being human and relating to God and God's creation? We put our hands to it. We proclaim a day coming when there will be no more thirst by giving water to the thirsty. We proclaim a day coming where there will be no more disease and death by caring for the lives of those whose bodies are broken. We proclaim a day coming where there will be no more war by preemptively sowing the seeds of peace.

It's true: The Bible does say that there is a time to build up and a time to tear down, a time to rejoice and a time to weep, a time for peace and a time for war. But we live in anticipation of the day coming when there will be no more time to tear down. There will be no more time for weeping. There will simply be no more time for war. Soon we're going to run out of time for these things. This is the day we work for. This is the day we pray into today.

Derek Webb is a singer and songwriter. His latest album is Ampersand EP, a collaboration with his wife, Sandra McCracken.

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