Justice: Return from Exile

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The cross brings to us a distinct form of justice seeking, which we could call the justice of solidarity. It is the nearness of God to the suffering. The incarnation, the humility of God as a carpenter, as a peasant, as a refugee in Egypt, says something to us about our own calling of closeness with the suffering of the world. 

The text in Hebrews says it all, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” (13:13) This is a call for us to be followers of Christ. He was taken outside the camp to be crucified, outside the city of Jerusalem. This was a kind of exile. Like Adam, Christ was sent outside of the Garden, cast out of favour. But it wasn’t out of God’s favour, but out of the favour of the ruling classes. In submitting to this, Christ bore the disgrace of the castaways of the world. He identified with the sinners, showing God’s solidarity, compassion and forgiveness to the rejected. 

This is God’s calling for us. We are all to identity with the broken of our world in this way. This view has been lost somewhat over the years. We see our calling to a moral life, but the Pharisees also claimed this. Christ’s critique was that they didn’t identify themselves with the outcasts. 

In Hebrew scripture, the thought being expressed here is one of exile, but not an exile that God brings to us, rather the exile we bring to each other in our broken and non-caring relationships.

Christ identified with the exile of the sinner and the poor, like the exile of Abel, brought upon him by Cain. It’s difficult for us today to see this as our Christian identity, to follow the real Jesus. 

Peter calls us exiles. He used the term pilgrim, stranger, or ambassador. This means we don’t identify with the current world order, like Rome of those days. But instead, we gather in the weak, into a new family of care. This was the mark of the early church. They restored people through reconciling relationships of self-giving, rather than mimicking the self-caring ways of the world. But when the church lived like this, they were exiled by those who clung to Roman culture and suffered for it. 

We can miss much of Peter’s message, not seeing its Hebrew connections. He alluded to temple themes, calling us a royal priesthood, offering up “spiritual sacrifices.” (reference?) Sacrifices in the Old Testament were mixed with salt and other spices, referring to the preserving, fragrant work of the priests, bringing the culture of heaven into a renewing world. Those following Christ made sacrifices through the offering of themselves, expressing God’s love and solidarity with the downtrodden. As a rebuke to the empire, this brought them into direct confrontation with the popular culture. 

When Peter next spoke of suffering with Christ, he hadn’t turned to a new topic. It was his New Testament understanding of sacrifice, brought to him through meeting Jesus. The pagans, and oftentimes even Israel, saw sacrifice as appeasing the gods. Christ showed it as solidarity with the meek. Unfortunately, we still often see sacrifice the pagan way, and therefore many we are supposed to care for are instead offered on the altar of our economy. Peter called us to follow Christ’s self-giving in serving the broken, as God’s new temple for a new creation. 

It isn’t adequate to express this as doctrine. It is a heart issue. The heart of God expressed through his sufferings in human flesh, because of his love, wishing to pass that love onto us in our sufferings. He was expressing the fact that though the world exiles us, he has brought us back from exile into family with himself and with all others who choose his meek way of life, as opposed to the world’s egocentric destruction of others. 

Only the exiled will know this embrace and welcome to the true home. Those who are at home in the present arrangement of things, on the receiving end of the status-quo, will not hear in their heart the call to another kind of world, that is a call of self-giving love, of non-discrimination towards the dispossessed. This brings us to the Beatitudes and their call to the hearts of those in exile. 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5:3-13)

Here is the announcement of a new kingdom, that began when Jesus came. It is the kingdom that is still renewing the world today, and which will hold sway in the future to come. It is the eternal way. In this new kingdom, it is the ones who weep with the broken, who stoop down to the world, who join with it, who become at home with the forsaken, who are God’s people: the ones who are like him, close to his heart. 

This is the way of Christ. To be persecuted for him means we have embraced his meekness. It means to love the enemy who has persecuted our own people. It means not to join the drum beat to cast the foreigner out, to go to war against the other. This was why Christ was persecuted: the claim that it was for sacrilege was just a “holy” excuse. 

Then Jesus called his disciples the salt of the earth. This was their self-giving sacrifice. As they identified with the weak as their brother and sister, they forsook their worldly respect to be one with the new family. This brought them all a new wholeness and sounded out a new anthem to the powers of injustice. Their offering, not of others but of themselves, was the fulfilment of God’s covenant promises of a new world, which had dawned in their hearts, one day to fully rise. Better to live by an imagination inspired by this world, than by the enforced imagination of Rome. 

The Beatitudes don’t reflect encouragement only for the people who were going through trouble. Instead, they are a universal call to Christ’s new family, throughout all ages, to embrace his way of life. They call us out of our separation from the less fortunate, or from our enemy, and call us out of self-imposed exile of blindness, to return to God’s true land, a land built on the principles of peace and reconciliation, on justice for others. This is meekness. To live in this way, to seek genuine, sharing, equal fellowship with the lowly, is the real justice of God being expressed through our lives.  

Our return home from our exile from God, means we voluntarily enter the exile of others to fellowship and serve. God’s people live in exile, not from God, but from the powers of privilege, to love and to restore humanity and the creation. This shows we have returned to the land, and shows God is fulfilling his promises of a new creation through the gospel of Christ in our hearts. 

Justice isn’t standing outside the exile/ prison of others and calling them out. It is leaving our place of equality with God, as the Jews had, or as Christians today have, and being incarnated inside the prison with others. Christ died inside the prison, was buried in the prison and he rose in the prison. This says so much about the prison and about our call not to flee the prison but to see God’s kingdom flourish in it. It’s the old culture of the prison we flee: the prison is transformed to be Christ’s resurrection community. 

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