"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes your come alive and go out and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -Howard Thurman I love this quote. However, there is an inherent problem with it. What if what makes us come alive is to create benefits for ourselves at the expense of others? What if our self-centeredness makes us come alive even though others suffer? Is there a right way to come alive?
What does it mean to come alive?
Another word for coming alive is passion. What is your passion? As a follower of Jesus I believe the more important question is, "What is God passionate about?" The reason I say that is my belief that Jesus reveals to us the passion of God.
And God's passion is supposed to be our passion.
In order to understand God's passion we need to understand the context in which the Bible--the story of God's passion--was written. The context can be generally summed up in four statements.
The world of the Bible was politically oppressive. Governing was in the hands of monarchs and a small minority of ruling elites. Second, it was economically exploitative. The Biblical world was agrarian. The wealth and power of monarchs was in the land and agriculture. Monarchs created wealth for themselves on the backs of the farm worker.
Third, the exploitation of the vast majority of people was supported by religious institutions. That is, monarchs ruled by divine right, were often referred to as son of god, and religious leaders were complicit in the exploitation. Fourth, the oppression and exploitation led to what is called the domination system, where a few benefit over the many.
Both Jesus and the OT prophets are clear: God's passion is for justice. Not punitive justice. Restorative justice. The kind that brings healing to the whole community. Did you know that justice and righteousness mean the same thing in the Bible? They do.
To be just is to be righteous. To be righteous is to be just.
But, specifically, what kind of justice is God passionate about? What kind of justice was Jesus passionate about?
“they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”
Vines and fig trees are signs of wealth in the Biblical world. Living without fear is the desire of God. For all people.
Last week a national budget proposal was announced by our president. Who benefits from it? Who does not benefit from it? I find it deeply disturbing that, as some Christians objected to the proposal by quoting Jesus' words from Matthew 25, "Though you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me," Evangelical Christians responded by saying Jesus' use of the phrase to the least of these only refers to Christians, and no one else. In spite of Christian Tradition, which has always demanded a concern for all. And that God’s justice is desired for everyone. (The Prophet Micah was not a Christian).
Apparently, people who are the most vulnerable—children and seniors, the poor and immigrants—do not deserve the love of God unless they are Christian. Christian as defined by Evangelical Christians. It seems the Evangelical view is that God only desires justice for those currently in power.
It turns out not a lot has changed in 5000 years.
So. What makes you come alive?