Many Christians have recently rediscovered the part of our calling – or of our God, really – that moves us to pursue “social justice.” But some rightly fear that justice issues might eclipse other aspects of our gospel-centered identity and mission. (I say “rightly” because we’re liable to turn anything into an idol, especially something right and good and true.) The classic question is what should we give the proverbial hungry believer in a location where we can be pretty sure he doesn’t know Jesus: the gospel or a loaf of bread? Or perhaps more to our point, in the public square should we quietly work toward a living wage or look for opportunities to explain the truth about Christ?
My suggestion is that we pray the Lord’s Prayer. More specifically, that we pray all of it.
What does the Lord’s Prayer have to do with not turning justice into an idol? I’m thinking specifically of two phrases, one of which has rightly become a biblical battle cry for pursuing justice for the poor: May your kingdom come. Jesus’ gospel of God’s kingdom was nothing if not good news for the poor, no doubt in more ways than one. And the next phrase proves that this isn’t merely a future hope, for we are instructed to pray that God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. I agree and applaud all efforts to fully live out Jesus’ invitation to anticipate God’s future kingdom in the present.
But what does sometimes happen is that this phrase gets separated from what preceded it: hallowed be your name. Jesus cares not only about what we do, but that we do it in the right way, and part of doing the right thing in the right way is doing it so that God’s name is rightly honored. By all means, “preach the gospel everyday, and if necessary use words.” But know that using words will very soon become necessary if the gospel is to be preached. By all means, give the dude a piece of bread and work for a living wage, but do it in the name of Jesus for the glory of God. By all means, work for the inbreaking of God’s kingdom, but don’t be embarrassed by or shy about the fact that this is God’s kingdom or that it came and comes to the world in Jesus.
We haven’t been called to make or build a new world. We are called to live into the reality of the new world already begun in Christ.