Saturday, October 11, 2014

Jesus as a Community Organizer?

For my Health Policy Advocacy class a couple weeks ago, we read an essay called, "The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ," by Jay Haley. The essay analyzes the ministry of Jesus as a movement for social change. The article compares Jesus' tactics to community organizers (and even dictators) who amass large followings. The text purports to describe the power dynamics of Jesus' movement-building work, providing lessons about rallying the poor and oppressed for a cause, which we can use in our own efforts to advocate for just health or other policies.

From our class discussion, it seemed like this article may be one of the few encounters many of my friends and classmates have had with Jesus, and it paints a rather disturbing picture. The text speculates on Jesus' ulterior motives and ultimately construes him as a tyrannical schemer who was willing to do anything it took to get his message of social justice out.

I have been hesitating on whether or not to share my thoughts on the essay for weeks, because of course, it is a controversial one to say the least. And then there is the personal temptation to hide who I am and what I believe, because faith is sometimes frowned upon in public health discussions.

But over the last few weeks, I have realized that I can only be who I am. Many of my classmates know that I am a Christian, and yet, I rarely share on a deeper level what that even means. The truth is, it has changed everything about who I am and how I see the world. Everything. I hope that sharing a glimpse into my own experiences of who Jesus is might open the door for others to feel more freedom in being real about who they really are and what defines them at the deepest level. So here goes nothing!

One thing I have in common with Jay Haley, the author of the essay we read, is that I do believe Jesus paved the way for a radically different view of the poor, hurting, and oppressed, and this belief is a large part of the reason that I am back in school to make a career change. I desire to love others through a career in public health.

Yet ultimately, the way I came to love Jesus had very little to do with His view of the world and everything to do with His view of me.

The scriptures taken as a whole, both Old and New Testaments, paint Jesus' motives and primary purpose not as a political campaign or rebellion, nor as a human movement for justice, but as the love-motivated fulfillment of God's plan to save and redeem humanity from separation from God himself. 

The most radical thing Jesus has shown me is that as much as I desire to love others through my own work and service, I cannot earn God's approval or love through these things. For one, my own efforts involve mistakes and mixed motives, many so corrupt that I hide them even from myself at times; as much as I try to be a good person, I shudder to think of what would happen to my reputation and relationships if the full content of my thought life were broadcast to the world on a projector 24/7. I don't know anyone that would fare well under the light of such a deep evaluation. Many of us agree that the world is a messed up place, but the more I examine myself, the more I realize that I am a central part of the problem.

Why is this so radical?

The miracle is that God actually knows all of the intimate details of every thought I have ever had, every motive I have ever held, every action I have ever done, and He loves me deeply.

Like, imagine the most passionate love story you have ever read or seen, multiply that by a million, and that is how God feels about me and you. In fact, He has already demonstrated his unconditional love for me through Christ's death on the cross. Christ lived the life of perfect love that I should live (but am unable to do in my own power) and then willingly out of love for me died the death that I truly deserve. When Jesus died on the cross, the scriptures teach that he actually paid the penalty for every corrupt thing I have ever thought or done, past, present, and future.

This free gift of love, this exchange of Christ's perfect life for my messed up one, is what I believe Christ's ministry was ultimately about. I don't need to keep trying to earn God's love or to save myself. I already have his unconditional love and salvation as a free gift.

It is out of the security of this relationship with God, knowing that He already loves me more than I could ever imagine or earn, that I grow to love Him more and can then serve and love others.

I am not interested in public health based on feelings of guilt or trying to earn God's approval with my chosen field.

On the contrary, because I understand at a deep level what selfless love is, based on what Jesus has already done for me and based on His unshakable love for me, regardless of what I do, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and have begun to be changed from the inside out. God's demonstrated love and his Holy Spirit guiding me are ultimately what help me pursue a world of greater equity, improved health, and justice for all.

When I was very young, I remember a few kids on the playground seemed to know something about God, and I had no idea who He was, having never gone to church at that time. I asked God to please show me who He was, and somehow He prompted my family to start attending the closest church to our house. Twenty years later, I am still leaning into new questions and asking God to show Himself to me, to help me figure out why I am responding to Him in any given way on any given day. And He is working on my heart from the inside out, revealing new aspects of His love in every season.

This is who I am. This is what shapes me.

My encouragement to those who have first encountered Jesus (or re-encountered him) through "The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ," would be to actually turn to God and ask Him your tough questions. Cry out to Him! If you find the essay intriguing, ask God to reveal Himself to you in other ways. If you find the essay disturbing, tell Him why and ask Him to help you in the search for answers. If you find yourself indifferent to it all, ask God why you feel this way. Maybe He will answer.

One great place to start in getting a glimpse into the life of Jesus is the book of John, the fourth book in the New Testament. If you are wondering who Jesus is, try reading it with an open mind, and see if God speaks to your heart through it. What events, characteristics, and statements stand out to you? What troubles you? What encourages you? God is not afraid of your questions; He already knows what they are before you speak them aloud, and He understands them. He loves you.

To learn more about the gospel of Jesus Christ, check out this resource about God's Plan of Salvation.

Not sure which translation of the bible to read? I enjoy the NLT, NIV, or ESV translations for modern language translated closely to the historical texts or The Message for a modern paraphrase / interpretation. (Note that The Message is NOT a translation.) All of these are available to read for free on

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