Racism, oppression, exclusion and poverty—our broken world is full of injustice. So how should we respond as followers of Jesus? Compassion Australia CEO Clare Steele reflects on what justice looks like at God's table and how injustice can be defeated.
09 Jun, 2020
I want to share with you something that's on my heart—justice.
So much has changed for all of us these last few months. Working from our houses instead of offices, homeschooling children, socially distancing from friends and family—the list goes on. And now even as restrictions ease, we are constantly adapting to each new change.
But what hasn't changed is the need for justice.
All this change has highlighted the suffering that already existed, suffering caused by the injustice throughout our world: racism, oppression, exclusion, poverty. These issues are present now, hurting many people every single day.
What else hasn't changed? God's steadfastness and love, His compassion for those in need and His desire for justice. He is the same now and will be forevermore. He won't change. And His command to us won't change:
He has shown you, O Mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. —Micah 6:8
So, how do we pursue justice as followers of Jesus? What does justice look like in the face of these issues? How do we look beyond our own hardships, our own pain, and show up for our neighbours in need?
God's promise: a seat at His table
I have been reflecting on justice as an image of a table. Tables are meant to bring people together. The best meals are the ones you share with other people.
And that's what we find when we turn to Scripture. The Bible is filled with meals and feasts and I see the image of a table, a feast, and generous hospitality, speaking about justice.
Isaiah uses this image of hospitality to hold out a promise—God's promise of restored relationships.
Isaiah 25:6-8 says:
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destory the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever...
Can you imagine a table overflowing with the finest food and the best of wines? It's an abundant and beautiful promise of divine hospitality. It is an image of deep fellowship.
This is God's promise that one day our most basic needs will be met abundantly. In the new creation there will be no more hunger, thirst, sickness or sorrow.
But it's also a promise that God will satisfy our deeper needs.
Justice at God's table
In the new creation there will be no more racism. No more oppression. No more exclusion. No more poverty. No more injustice. Because in Jesus Christ everyone is invited to God's table. The poor, the powerless and the oppressed will not be forgotten.
But we're clearly not at that point yet.
As Isaiah puts it so vividly, the world is tangled up in a heavy shroud, a thick sheet drapes the nations in darkness. But God has promised a day is coming when the shroud will be destroyed. He will swallow up death forever.
And when He does, we will eat at the table that God has prepared and invites us to. A table overflowing with love and restored relationships. A table where justice is done.
Do you see how this image helps us understand God's vision for creation? His vision is to unite all people and all the nations and bring justice for everyone.
And that's why a table is such a powerful way to think about justice. Tables bring people together—especially the Lord's table.
How do we respond to His invitation—and invite others to the table?
So how do we respond to injustice now? How do we need to stand against racism, oppression and poverty? Allowing these things should be unthinkable for a community that is gathered around Jesus and shares in the meal He offers.
And there are many ways to take a stand.
We can enter into the pain of others. We can be there for people who are suffering injustice. We can listen. We can work to understand. We can defend them. We can help them—whether practically, emotionally or spiritually. We can invite them to our tables and show hospitality.
Being blessed at the table of the poor
Let me share a story about an incredibly meaningful time I was invited to someone's table. A time where I was part of a meal that overturns the power structures of the world.
In October 2018, before I had ever contemplated applying for the role of Compassion Australia CEO, I went on my first trip with Compassion to the Philippines.
We visited a tiny church in rural Legazbi at a place called Iriga. We had to drive about 2.5 hours from our hotel—shadowed much of the way by a volcano that is still active and had erupted only six months earlier.
We were the first Compassion sponsors to ever visit this church. And they were so excited to welcome us! They danced and sang. They showed us around the child development centre and they shared their hopes and dreams with us. And then they invited us to share a meal.
By the world's standards, there was nothing that they could offer us.
Their poverty was extreme. Their buildings were dilapidated. Most families lived day by day, parents struggling to provide enough food. There was a glaring power imbalance between them and us.
But they invited us to share in a traditional Filipino meal called a 'Boodle Fight'. They laid out all the food on long trestle tables—rice and pork and chicken and delicious fruit.
Everyone lined up along either side. And as we grabbed food with our hands and tried eating it without touching our mouths—we made a mess! We just couldn't get the hang of it they way they could.
There was a lot of laughing and eating and stumbling conversations with the language barrier. But do you know what else?
As we gathered around that table, their hospitality turned our worlds upside down.
The poorest of the poor shared everything they had with us while we—wealthy in comparison—were humbled and blessed.
Their faith and hope in God showed my own spiritual poverty and need. And our shared faith in the Lord Jesus meant we gathered together not as rich and poor or strong and weak but as brothers and sisters and friends, because the rich generosity of their table gave us a glimpse of the rich hospitality of God.
This meal reminds me that we are each called to invite the world to God's table and overturn injustice throughout the nations.
Photos by Ben Adams and Clare Steele
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