The UN World Day of Social Justice is on February 20th. This year let’s consider how social justice and holiness are intrinsically linked in the lives of Salvos across Australia.
To be like Jesus!
This hope possesses me,
In every thought and deed,
This is my aim, my creed;
To be like Jesus!
This hope possesses me,
His Spirit helping me,
Like him I'll be .
To Be Like Jesus is a significant song for many people. Growing up in The Salvation Army I have many beautiful memories of people praying at the mercy seat in response to this song. I’ve experienced moving moments where I’m reminded of the Spirit’s invitation to ‘be like Jesus’.
Sunday school rightly or wrongly reinforced an idea that if I prayed enough and read my bible frequently the spirit would work its magic, and I would become holy; eventually empowered to walk the earth following the rules and to live without sin. To be like Jesus was to do no wrong, be softly spoken and do anything possible to ensure I did not transgress in my Christian walk.
In my faith journey I’ve had to unlearn and relearn what holiness means for me, and lately, I have been reflecting on a particular story of Jesus that provides an alternative narrative of holiness as ‘rule-following’.
The gospels tell the story of Jesus in the temple. Jesus goes to Jerusalem, finds moneychangers and people selling cattle, sheep and doves in the temple - and he gets fired up. He gets passionate, angry, agitated and starts chasing out those who are selling and buying in the temple. He turns over tables exclaiming, “The Scriptures say, ‘my house should be a called a place of worship for all nations.’ But you have made it a place where robbers hide!” When confronted with something that dishonoured God, Jesus responded fiercely and emotionally - “Don’t make my father’s house a market place”! His behaviour is a political act that confronts systems of power embedded into temple life. Some commentaries suggest that the money changers in the temple acted as a mechanism of exclusion because they inhabited the area of the temple where gentiles came to worship. The temple was intended to be a “house of prayer for all nations. ”
Is this what it means to ‘be like Jesus’? Was Jesus’ anger an act of holiness?
The use of the temple as a market place was an injustice against God, and it was an injustice against people. The social justice department based in Sydney has consistently taught that “Social Justice is an extension of our Holiness”. To be like Jesus is to turn over tables in the temple. To be like Jesus is to seek justice.
This story isn’t justification for any keyboard warriors out there; it isn’t an excuse to argue with people you disagree with theologically. Jesus was angry but didn’t react with violence. In fact, his response could be considered thought out – in John’s gospel we read that he ‘took some rope and made a whip’ – not to use on people but to move livestock out of the temple. He didn’t grab a whip and start irrationally swatting at people – he took the time to make it. To be like Jesus is to seek justice, but it’s also to carefully contemplate an approach to that injustice.
In Luke’s version, after Jesus turns out the money keepers, he continues teaching in the temple. Matthew tells us that the ‘blind and lame people came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them ’. Jesus calls out a system of injustice and exclusion then stays to engage with people, including those who were on the margins. By staying to engage and teach people, Jesus demonstrates that our understanding of holiness isn’t one of condemnation and exclusion because we don’t ‘get it right’. To be like Jesus is to keep people at the centre of your actions, to show compassion and inclusion to them.
The story of Jesus in the temple also points people to the true identity of Jesus: The Son of David, God’s Son. This was an act that deeply upset the Chief Priests and ultimately ended in the plotting of Jesus’ death. To be like Jesus is to reveal who God is in every aspect of our lives – it is to show people how God is present and active in the world. That is to say, our desire for holiness cannot stop at the mercy seat. It must follow us out of our church doors and into the streets of our neighbourhoods.
To be like Jesus is to let holiness permeate both our thinking and our actions. To be like Jesus may require us to speak out, it may move us to passionate action, and it may upset people when we do so. But in this process, we will find God’s Kingdom breaking through, and people will experience justice.
 Matt 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-16.