And I know that many will stand up and shout about all the passages in the Bible (over 2000+ verses, I know) that deal with words about justice and equity and hunger and poverty and so on. And almost everyone will point to Matthew 25 and the words Jesus utters about having done it to him when you do it to the "least of these." And yet whenever I read it those words in the Bible, I don't hear them addressed to the hoi polloi, the great masses for the most part. I hear the prophets calling Israel's leaders to task. I hear Jesus calling out the civil authorities, reminding them that one day he will return as the one and only king, finally bringing about the culmination of the Reign of God, to which they will have to answer. Which has brought me to the realization that if the Church is not supposed to care for people living on the social margins, then it must be the civil authorities. But then, as now, the civil authorities are terrible at it. And now they turn to the Church to do their job, so long as they don't do it too well.
Whenever the Church stands up and begins doing the civil authorities' jobs, sooner or later they begin, whether intentionally or not, to point to that Reign, when all tears will be wiped away, when all hunger is stopped, when there will be no more class distinction. This witness to the activity of God then is a reminder that these authorities are temporal. They will pass away. But what authority truly wants to hear that they are not going to last. None of them. When the activity of the Church starts to look like this ultimate Reign, the authorities try to put the Church back into a constrained little box. "Mixing of church and state!" "Socialism!" "Christianity is about the salvation of souls!!!"
Paul talks about sin as a power that enslaves, and we are enslaved until Christ sets us free. But sin gets us all. Our individual lives, our communal lives, our strutctures and powers, even our not-so-free market. Even the market is bound by sin. Christ stands against all of that, and the Church now has to free people for service in this future Reign breaking in around us even now. And we step in to do the work that isn't really ours, serving our neighbor, precisely because it is hard to hear the gospel over the grumbling of an empty stomach. We continue to point to and raise up people who can point to this work of God in Jesus.
Over at Sojourners, Rachel Johnson invokes Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the theology of the cross in this same vein.
Bonhoeffer took very literally the idea that Christians are called to be the body of Christ in the world and to imitate the life of Christ. And when he looked to the gospels, the example he saw Jesus give was of a servant who challenged the oppressive social forces around him. It was this understanding that lead Bonhoeffer to state, “The church is the church only when it exists for others.” Jesus frees us from sin in order that we may have a transformative impact on our social structures here and now, so that we may aid in ushering in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. For freedom we are set free. And so, to Bonhoeffer, Christians of good conscience could not remain silent under Hitler’s rule, because the calling of God on their lives was one that compelled them to speak on behalf of the oppressed, to share in the life of Jesus, even to the point of sharing in his suffering and dying. This last point is one with which Glenn Beck seems particularly uncomfortable.