Today is the fifth entry in our series on the 6 ways Jesus changed the world and we’re talking about humanitarian reform. In the article that inspired this series, John Ortberg describes a world turned upside down; women were welcomed, a slave might walk into an early church meeting and find his feet being washed by his owner, bishops were instructed in ancient texts not greet the wealthy, but to sit on the floor and welcome the poor. As Paul said in Galatians:28:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
According to scholar and author Thomas Cahill, this is the first egalitarian statement in human literature. Wonder how those complementarians deal with this little ditty?
In first century Greco-Roman culture, men ruled the roost. And, if you were a citizen, that went double. Throw a little wealth in the mix and you’ve really got something. Women and children were basically a chattel, a small step up from the livestock that almost every family had in some measure. The poor and the sick didn’t fare much better. But, these are the people Jesus welcomed into his fellowship. The disciples are a good example: fishermen, subsistence farmers, tax collectors and even a Zealot or two (Judas and Simon the Zealot), these people weren’t the cream of the crop, but they were the people to whom Jesus brought the good news of the Gospel. Jesus consistently reached out to these people in direct contravention of the culture at that time.
This was humanitarian reform at the grass-roots level. Funny thing about grass-roots movements; if they have merit, they grow at a tremendous rate, all out of proportion to their organization and skills. Look at the Occupy movement: a diverse group of people who were tired of influence of the big banks and corporation on our society, they began to protest. On September 17, 2011, 1000 people marched up and down Wall Street, protesting the bank bail out. In less than a month, the movement had spread not just across the country, but across the world with protest in over 900 cities. Jesus’ humanitarian movement has taken a little longer.
Societies are still stratified by economics, people still view those not of the social group as “others”, sometimes with disastrous results such as the tribal genocides that occur in Africa and other places in the world. People are still more concerned with their stuff than they are with people. Big corporations use their workers until they can’t do anymore, then toss them aside. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Jesus showed us a different way, one that focused on people and community over wealth and power. One where the powers that be would provide health care benefits to those who’ve risked their lives for their brothers and sisters and not worry what it might do the budget. One that recognized the worth of all people regardless of whether they paid income tax or not. One in which those powers at least listened to people when making decisions that affect them. One in which all were welcomed to the table, be they Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for we all one in Jesus Christ.