Advent reflection – week 2 – Equality
People are often quoted as saying that Jesus was on the side of the poor. That’s easy to see from the gospel stories; he ‘hung out’ with the poor, his message was generally good news for the poor, indeed, he was one of the poor!
Joseph had a good trade as a carpenter, it provided stability, but life in first century Palestine wasn’t exactly easy, and there are clues in the Bible to suggest that his family were not all that well off. They offered pigeons instead of a lamb when they dedicated Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2:24, Lev 5:7) for example.
Mary and Joseph’s inability to find sanctuary in Bethlehem, Joseph’s family home also suggests that their wider family had rejected them as Mary’s pregnancy outside of wedlock brought shame on them all. With little money and little family support, the beginning of Jesus’ life was not an easy one.
It certainly seems that he favoured the poor in his life and ministry, yet Jesus also met with and ate with the influential and the rich. He had a lot to say to them as well. He didn’t decide who he would be seen with on account of their economic status, indeed he had some rich followers (Matt 27:57) yet we hear little of them and the gospel writers tend to portray Jesus in opposition to those with power and wealth. Yet I would want to suggest that he did not reject the rich, instead it was they who rejected him. His life and message seemed unpalatable to them (Mark 10:17-25; Luke 12:20-22; Luke 16:21-23; Matt 19:23-24) so they chose to ignore him or stand in opposition to him.
As in his life, so in his birth; the good news that the saviour had been born on earth went out to both the wealthy, learned and influential (magi) and also to those who were classed as nobodies, the poorest and lowest in society (shepherds). There is no distinction made in God’s eyes to people’s worth according to economic status.
There is just one message, a message of justice and mercy that goes out to all. People, because of their circumstances and statuses will hear and respond to it in different ways; like any message you hear from government for example, it will seem better news for some than for others.
The Bible’s themes of justice and mercy may go out to all regardless of economic status, but there are sharp economic consequences attached to them. It is only when we are able to see beyond society’s priorities of gaining power and wealth to God’s priorities of justice and mercy that this good news is acknowledged as good for all. For some that moment never arrives causing the coming of Jesus to be divisive and sometimes destructive (think of King Herod, unwilling to accept any change or surrender of power).
We must be prepared, as people who claim to follow Jesus, to face opposition. If we are not faced with difficulties in sharing the good news of justice and mercy we are either not making it clear enough or not sharing it with those with power and vested interests in the status quo.
It is not bad to be wealthy or powerful, wealth and power are not bad things, they are just things, to be used for good or for ill. But they are addictive things that easily corrupt and close people’s ears to the good news of God’s justice and mercy.
Regardless of any backlash we receive, we must remember that the coming of Jesus is good news for all. Perhaps the more uncomfortable it is, the more people need to hear it.