Christianity should not merely be seen as a spiritual process. There are also the social, cultural and economic dimensions involving the whole human person and his/her relationship with the community.
In the Old Testament, God dramatically intervened in human history to rescue His people from slavery and oppression.
Jesus heralded the reign of God in a more direct fashion. Inevitably, when we choose the side of the poor and criticise injustices, we run into conflict with the interests of the rich and powerful.
This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Herald.
Jesus himself did not set about to upset the powers-that-be during his time. But his message that the Kingdom of God, God’s reign, was at hand was a slap against the sovereignty of Caesar, the Roman Occupiers and Israel’s own worldly rulers. The values that he proclaimed – love, compassion, justice – were diametrically at odds with the values of the Roman Empire (oppression, tyranny and greed).
Seen in that light, Jesus’ message to render to God what was God’s and to render to Caesar what was Caesar’s meant that we should give back to worldly rulers the ultimately worthless and futile pursuits (wealth, greed, ambition) symbolised by the denarii (money and the oppressive economic system). The denarii was to be given back to Caesar, while the people were to go back to their rightful “owner”, God. Through this separation of the tainted denarii from the people of God, it could be said that Jesus was bestowing economic independence on the people – an independence from the oppressive structures of the time.
And that independence was seen in basic communities from the time of the Gospel to the conversion of Constantine. They saw themselves as under God’s direct reign – a reign that, even though dimmed by the later worldly ambitions and oppression of political and church leaders, continues to this day.
In that sense, we are called once again to return to the Gospel in basic communities, to take stock of global challenges and begin the transformation at the local level. This time, the challenges – economic, political, social and cultural – and the oppressive economic system are a thousand times more formidable. Whereas the empire of the Roman world in the Gospels was confined to the known world, today the tentacles of Empire stretch across the globe in the form of neo-liberalism (and other policies which favour the rich over the poor, the capitalist class over the workers), militarism and the arms race, global trade injustice…