Was Jesus a Social Justice Advocate?

“Now we command you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3)

Yes, open to interpretation. And that’s the problem. People who advocate social justice should really stop appealing to the Bible. Do I think people who can work should work? Yes, in a system where they receive the value of the labors, where they do not labor under the illusion of the promise of eternal life, or in order to give the church money, but instead labor alongside their brothers and sisters in the here-and-now and on the promise of social provision on the basis of need—guaranteed and not dependent on the whim of charity. As long as illusion prevails—as long as people prefer painkillers to changing structures—we’re stuck.

Jesus Driving the Merchants from the Temple

I don’t agree that Jesus was a social justice advocate. He doesn’t advocate for overthrowing unjust social structures. Instead, he threatens people who don’t believe him with Hell and Hell’s angels (argumentum ad baculum—fitting for the son of the god of the Bible). He tells people to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. He tricked people with conjurer tricks. He told the poor, sick, and downtrodden that their reward was not of this earth but of the life hereafter—as long as they worshipped his father. Those are the words of a charlatan., not a social justice advocate.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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