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Center for Action and Contemplation

Jesus’ Social Program

Thursday, May 7, 2020


Jesus’ Social Program
Thursday, May 7, 2020

Jesus’ experience of divine kinship, which Beatrice Bruteau described yesterday, naturally led to the creation of equitable community. His community was very different than the larger society in which he lived—and the individualistic, largely unfettered capitalist society in which we live today. In fact, Jesus’ community looks very similar to networks of mutual aid which are springing up to help one another during this global pandemic. In the midst of crisis, people often begin to rely on others morewhether neighbors, local organizations, or even online communitiesfor physical, emotional, and psychological support. By giving what we can and receiving what we need, we build relationships that last. Bruteau continues:

The total social program that Jesus advocated was based on communion, friendship, distribution, and partnership. This contrasts with a social organization based on domination, exploitation, accumulation, and force. His program’s central principle is equality, just as the contrasting paradigm’s principle is inequality. The latter is vertically ordered by “power over.” The former is horizontally ordered by sharing and mutual care. Even what might have been a vertical dimension—the power of God over all—is developed [through Jesus] in a horizontal way by the distributed Spirit indwelling each social entity (individual, family, local community, the whole people). This distribution of the God-expressing Spirit implies that people must be in active partnership with God at all points.

This is the “covenant” idea: contribution, responsibility, and care work both ways, in the context of equality and mutual respect. There is no “social status.” . . .  All persons are respected equally, while particular gifts and expertise organize collective activity appropriately for the benefit of all. The people are committed to one another and pledge to care for the other as one cares for oneself. “Benefit of all” is a real incentive, a strong motivator. . . .

These ideas and their accompanying feelings . . . cannot be imposed on people. They have to emerge in a natural and spontaneous way. The thesis is that all people have such feelings, at least the propensity for them, and vaguely the desire to let them surface and operate, but they are discouraged from showing and fulfilling them by [dominant] social systems. . . . Occasionally individuals appear who have broken free from the prevailing culture and who can give opportunity to others to be free. If they can come together, they can form a community that welcomes newcomers and grows. Their cooperative lifestyle makes for stronger community unity than the selfishness, suspicion, competition, and hostility of the lifestyle they have left behind.

The type of community that Beatrice Bruteau describes is an essential part of the Jesus “program.” It flows naturally from the recognition of God’s presence within each and every individual and all of creation. How could we, who have God’s Spirit within us, ever rob, cheat, oppress, or harm others, within whom the Spirit also dwells?

Beatrice Bruteau, The Holy Thursday Revolution (Orbis Books: 2005), 219–220.

Image credit: Dressing for the Carnival (Detail), Winslow Homer, 1877, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We learn and are healed by committing ourselves to others. —Richard Rohr
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