Charity that does not lead to justice and transformation is just like a band aid on a festering wound. It looks like something good is being done, but underneath things are getting worse.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “‘We’re called to be the Good Samaritan and lift our neighbor out of the ditch.’ But after you lift so many people out of the ditch, you start to say, ‘Maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be transformed.’”
Shane Claiborne said charity has to lead to justice, otherwise we just end up accommodating injustice with our philanthropy and volunteerism. In fact, sometimes charity is a way we quell our guilt but do little to change our lifestyle, much less challenge systemic injustice or take on the principalities and powers.
As we mature, we get to ask new questions, deeper fundamental questions about poverty and violence — and not just respond to the symptoms. For a while we were giving people food, then we started asking why people are hungry. You know the old give someone a fish and they eat for a day, teach them to fish they eat for their life — and then there is more. You start saying, “Who owns the pond?” “Who polluted the pond?” “Why does a fishing license cost so stinking much?
Most of the church in Johannesburg's suburbs lives oblivious to the horrific suffering of the 57% of South Africans who live in extreme poverty. The only encounters most have with the poor are through wound-up-windows at traffic lights in air-conditioned cars, through one-sided exploitative employment relationships or through the safety of impersonal media.
The more we live among the urban poor, while maintaining relationships with our suburban friends, the more we see two worlds almost separated by a great chasm in this life. The one world, consisting of our marginalized friends experiences devastating levels of suffering. We regularly see trauma, death, exploitation and inhumane living conditions. The other world seems isolated by luxury and seems to be persuing everything but the Kingdom of God. I want to shout out - it is 57% of our city. The conditions are not OK! Life is not about accumulating possessions, or about comfort and convenience. We need to live in the jubilee proclamations of scripture to ensure there is not a needy person among us. God has blessed the church with the means to meet the need, but she is using it to serve her greed.
Surely the parable of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31 - see below) serves as a sober warning and begs the question if we don't change - how will the suburban church escape the judgement of God
The Rich Man and Lazarus
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
..and the anticipation keeps growing...
Today we went with 2 ladies, Nonhlanhla and Bafikile, from the area to visit a roof top garden project on the top of a building close by and also a small learning centre for kids in another building. Love making friends with people with like minds and hearts from this community! Nigel made a short video interviewing a young school student who has been tending the rooftop garden, and also Nonhlanhla who grew up in Hillbrow and is now a masters student in Environmental studies at UJ and wants to continue working back into the community. Inspiring day!
Check out Nigel's video here: