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A Christian perspective on Social Action

John Breadon's picture

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Why do good, some argue, when life is so short and uncertain? Have it all yourself today, they say, because tomorrow cannot be guaranteed. This is clearly an attractive way of living when you think about it. Who doesn't enjoy (at some level) looking after themselves first, above and beyond others? But this approach tells but barely half the story about selfishness and goodness. There is something in us that actually likes helping other people. Even the most miserable and bitter of us invest a great deal of time, money and effort in helping others. We seem to get a kick out of seeing other people smile. Weird.

 

The achievements of heroes

Every once and a while there appear incredibly strong-willed, dynamic, self-giving people we call ‘heroes'. They are heroic because of their care, concern and love for others - often at serious cost to their own well­being. Such people, when you read their biographies, seem almost magically destined from an early age to alleviate the woes of others. People like Martin Luther-King (shot dead for his efforts to liberate Black America) or Nelson Mandela (who spent 27 years in prison for challenging the South African system of apartheid). We look at their lives and achievements and think, ‘Wow. They are really good people.' We then, more often than not, go on to compare their achievements with our own. So, whilst some great person is out freeing slaves or rescuing a country from tyranny, what are we doing? We are in a sulk because that parcel from Amazon hasn't arrived on the day it should have done. Not really hero material. This is where the following of a hero, for some, can help. Jesus, the Christian's hero, doesn't let his followers off the hook for a second when it comes to doing good.

 

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' (Matthew 25:31-36)

 

How much should we do?

It's a tricky balancing act between beating ourselves up over not doing enough ‘good things' (see Jesus' list above), and letting ourselves off the hook at every turn. If nothing ever challenges the pre-eminence of Number One (namely ourselves), can we honestly say that we've done our best? The Christian tradition has tended to take a hard line on selfishness, especially when it challenges the common good. There is a rather chilling story in the Acts of the Apostles (in the New Testament), about a Christian couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold some land. Now, rather than giving the money raised from the sale back to the community - what they were supposed to do - they held back some for themselves. Bad idea. The result was instant death for both of them. Thankfully, God seems to have given up on such harsh punishments for the greedy.

 

But this story raises a very important point. What we do with our money is vitally important and in a world as money-obsessed as ours, this is a message worth heeding. Jesus had many things to say about money and its role in human life. A very rich man came to him to enquire what he should do to inherit eternal life. (This is basically the same as asking - what is it I should do to become good?) Jesus asked him if he stole, lied or defrauded people. The man said, ‘No, I don't do any of those things. Then Jesus said to him: ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.' When the man heard this he was shocked and went away upset, for he had many iPods and really enjoyed his cheap weekend breaks in Europe.

 

It might take a lot of work and belief, but I believe we can all become heroes like Jesus, or Buddha, or Mohammed, or Martin Luther-King. And I'm sorry if that sounds like the inside of a bad birthday card. Contemplate the idea for a minute. What difference might you make in your school, community and society? Ask yourself who or what is being overlooked or sidelined or silenced. And when you think you've identified what needs to be done, go out and do it

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