After a week of examining the ministry of Jesus, which culminates with the triumph of love over death, I have been reminded of some notable insights. The work of Jesus reminds us that the prophetic instinct always discomforts the comfortable and comforts the discomforted. Idolatry in its most basic form is a human attempt to evade or deny the contingency or fragility of any human construct (including government and religion). Just as in the time of Jesus, modern attempts to ossify, petrify, or freeze human creations of method, technique, rationality, sexuality, nationality, race, or empire are suspect. The prophetic work of Jesus was not about predicting outcomes but rather to identify concrete evils (West 2002). Much of what passes for prophetic ministry in today’s vernacular is missing the complete picture of the prophetic ministry of Jesus.
The social teachings of Jesus: respect for the person; service as “summum bonum”; overcoming evil with good; and the equality of humanity situate him as a radical revolutionary prophet (Rustin 2012).
These teachings are diametrically opposed to contemporary popular culture. If culture comprises a people’s total social heritage including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organizations, and traditions etc., then we are in need of the message of Jesus in every cultural outlet known to humanity (Douglas 1999). The prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex, imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy, all in service to laissez faire market capitalism which neglects the poor, undermines the dignity of labor, threatens the environment, and glorifies greed; makes the prophetic message of Jesus completely countercultural. This countercultural message is as relevant and necessary today as it was over two thousand years ago. The gospel of Jesus accents decision, commitment, engagement, and action which transforms what is in the light of that which should be. It does so because Jesus recognizes the dignity of persons is their ability to contradict what is, to change and be changed, and to act in light of that which is not –yet. This also recognizes the depravity of persons is their proclivity to cling to the moment, to refuse to transform or be transformed. This situates the proper loci of Christianity in the center of this worldly liberation and other worldly salvation (West 2002).
The teaching of Jesus can best be described as a seamless garment, a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death (McCoy 2015). The ethics that emerge in the teaching of Jesus show God’s defense and vindication of the oppressed, a critique of the dominant systems of power and their powerholders, the vision of a new age to come in which injustice is overcome by the reign of peace and justice for all. They are ethics that denounce religious ideologies and social systems that function to justify and sanctify the dominant unjust social order (Ruether 1993). We can no longer pretend be followers of Jesus without wearing the seamless garment of these ethics with courage. The real work of following Jesus retaining our prophetic critique in order to speak truth to power knowing we cannot assimilate or incorporate because we dare not render unintelligible the radical mess
age of progress that happens when you point to the ethic of Jesus.
From Jesus’ personal mission statement taken from the book of Isaiah to His last moments intimate moments with His disciples, his ministry was focused on service. He was consistently serving the needs of individuals and the community. The work he did to maintain his ministry was minimal in comparison to the work he did to benefit the individual and redirect power in the social space. It is easy for those in power and those with privilege to ignore the emphasis of Jesus on social service and redirect the attention to
otherworldly attributes because they can escape the call to service that central to following Jesus. For those on the margins this is not so easy because the conditions of tyranny that they suffer on a daily basis and the attacks on their very embodiment are most in need of the attention of Jesus and His modern followers. I am grateful to be reminded of the person and work of Jesus. I am personally called to lean into the invitation to take up my own cross and follow Jesus in this way of being in the world. The road is rough, and the going is tough, and the hills are hard to climb, but I have decided to make the way of Jesus my choice.
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Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Director of Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .
McCoy, John A. 2015. A Still and Queit Conscience: The Archbishop WHo Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church . Maryknoll: Orbis.
Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1993. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston : Beacon Press .
Rustin, Bayard. 2012. I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters. Edited by Micheal G Long. San Francisco: City Light Books.
West, Cornel. 2002. Prophsey Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.