When you read the Gospel narratives, do you ever notice how Jesus sees and hears those people ignored by others? Whether a blind beggar, a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years, or a hungry crowd, Jesus either sees them when others don’t, or he sees them quite differently than others do. These encounters inform us that Jesus had an intentional consciousness of those around him.
This awareness flowed out of his understanding of God and who he was in relationship to God, and such attentiveness toward those who suffer offered to his followers a model of what it meant to live under the rule of God. But what kind of consciousness did Jesus have and what patterns of living did he exhibit that offer to us a pattern for living that continues to bring the kingdom of God into the world?
Before addressing the latter question, let us answer the first by remembering that in his life, Jesus expressed the essence of God’s character and love through sacrificial action and vulnerability toward humanity. Jesus’ consciousness about those around him, particularly those regarded as expendable by society, was based on his understanding of God’s limitless and sacrificial love. Jesus, therefore, had a clear awareness not only of his own purpose of bringing God’s justice to the world, but he also had a keen consciousness of those who needed God’s justice, i.e. the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten.
How should this influence our living if we choose to live according to the paradigm Jesus has set for us? First, Jesus’ life and teachings should convince us that we must repent of our complacency about the injustices in our world, and that we must develop a consciousness about those who suffer. When Jesus called people to repent in response to his announcement that the kingdom of God had come, he was not calling them only to turn away from personal sins. He was calling them to repent of the sins of neglect, unconsciousness, and detachment, which are the greatest sins of humanity. He was calling them to repent from lives of self-centeredness and to commit their lives to embodying God’s justice in the world.
For most of us the problem is not a lack of compassion, or an unwillingness to help others, but rather a deficiency in our awareness about what really goes on in the world apart from our self-interests. Allow me to set forth the following example from common church life that clarifies my concerns. Most churches have a prayer list on which one normally finds the concerns connected to that group; someone’s grandmother, uncle, etc. There is nothing wrong with praying for these concerns, for they are real concerns and God cares for each one. But why don’t these prayer lists also mention the larger sufferings and injustices of the world, such as hunger, war, intolerance, etc.?
We could push this further by stating that many churches do not set aside a time during worship to pray for those who suffer from injustice. Moreover, Bible studies and sermons are mostly about us, about how to live better lives, about our relationships to God as individuals, and about how to get to heaven. There is nothing wrong with this, for such teachings are part of being Christian, but these concerns are a significantly small fraction of what it means to follow Christ. In our places of worship, we should press our thinking about God and about what God is doing in the world beyond ourselves, and we must seek God’s greater desire for us and for the world, which is to bring God’s justice to all.
When we do this, we will not only become aware of the greater needs of our world, we will also become mindful of how God sees those who suffer. And when our collective consciousness is raised, we can respond to God’s call to seek peace and justice. This way of thinking and acting is the utmost expression of faith in God. When we reach the point of abandoning ourselves, our desires, and even our very lives, God’s kingdom of justice will come and God’s will to lift up the oppressed will be done on earth as it is in heaven.