The famine in the Horn of Africa has put a much needed spotlight on human suffering around the world. The images of malnourished babies are splashed across the TV screen, making real the crisis that is going on around the world.
But this famine isn’t the extent of human suffering. There are women enslaved in the sex trade. There are people living on the streets. There are people starving, and I’m not just talking about the ones in Africa. Human suffering, in all its forms, has been going on for millennia.
Why are we not outraged? Why don’t our hearts break when we look into the eyes of a homeless person begging for food? In an age of space exploration, why haven’t we bothered to feed all the people on this planet?
I think the answer is that we don’t see suffering. When suffering is before us, we avert out eyes. We turn away. I think that if we really saw the suffering around us, and around the world, we would act. Jesus did.
Jesus didn’t turn away from suffering. Jesus looked upon the undesirables and ministered to them. He cleansed lepers. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He exorcized demons. Jesus saw the suffering among the most vulnerable members of society and he took decisive, immediate action.
Jesus tackled the big issues. Divorce. Adultery. Capital Punishment. He fed the 5,000. He cried out for social and religious reform. He took the Law to a whole new level: love of God and love of neighbor. Love that springs from the heart, not simply outward actions.
I know it’s easier to turn away from the suffering, but that is a dangerous game. Jesus told a story of a rich man who had plenty. Every day, a beggar named Lazarus sat at his gate asking alms. Both died. The rich man was cast into the fire for his treatment of Lazarus (who went to Abraham’s bosom). Apparently, how we treat the poor is of eternal significance.
I believe that Jesus is calling the people of God to see suffering, and to take immediate, decisive action, as He did. He has empowered us with the Holy Spirit so that we may do the works that he did (and greater!). He calls for us to see the problems and the suffering in the world, and then work for change. This is social justice.