Honouring Jesus' call to mission.
Honouring Jesus' call to mission.
9 January 2018
When asked to prioritise the legal requirements the Jewish people faced, Jesus famously says, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these” (Mark 12:29-31, The Message).
Or, in more familiar language, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (English Standard Version).
The content speaks for itself, but what of the context? Christ’s answer was part of an ongoing, lively debate as Jerusalem’s teachers of the law and religious scribes tried to put this upstart Nazarene through his paces.
As we read in Mark’s gospel, Jesus had already ridden into the capital in triumph, cursed a fig tree, cleansed a temple, embarrassed the chief priests and the scribes and the elders in public debates, and told stories about industrial arbitration, tax evasion and the metaphysics of marriage in heaven. Consequently, the temple boys were on the ropes: the loaded question was trying to get Jesus to commit blasphemy, or at least trip himself up in the minutia of ecclesiastical jurisprudence.
His answer? Love God. Love others.
Many things we do in The Salvation Army are done to love God by loving others. We respond to people’s pain, grief, loneliness. We get them fed, housed, clothed, trained or educated; we see they’re treated by doctors or seen by counsellors. We help them secure a job, find a relative, or make a friend; we protect them from violence and sadism; we aid their search for spiritual and physical salvation.
Sometimes dismissed belittingly, erroneously, as “bandaid work”, the social work of The Salvation Army often literally helps keep people alive and healthy. That work is part of our mission, according to Christ’s identified, prioritised commands. Consider also the research and advocacy the Army undertakes, looking at the causal factors behind people’s pain: systemic poverty, the benign neglect of those who have not, by those who have; and the inherent advantage enjoyed by some members of the community that consequently disadvantages others.
Since 1865, The Salvation Army has both preached the good news and delivered good news through the immediate alleviating of need; there has also been a periodic struggle to change the world, the societies that allow that depth of need to flourish.
In 1975, General Frederick Coutts wrote, in No Discharge in This War, that “one generation of Salvationists may succeed another, but the work of the Army does not cease because human need does not cease. Whatever government may be in power and whatever economic theory may be the current fashion, some homes will still break up; some marriages will come apart; some children will need care and protection; some men will find themselves cursed with some inner inadequacy; some youthful spirits will hurt themselves in their revolt against society; some social misfits must be accepted instead of rejected; some soul in search of a faith has to be pointed to the shining light ...”
Coutts pointed out that, back in 1950, “there were those who supposed the welfare state would be a mother bountiful, the universal provider of every need. All volunteer, religious and social enterprise would wither away because there would be no place for it. The very opposite has proved to be true. There are now more agencies than ever.”
Today? There is still need. There is still a Salvation Army. Christ still calls us to love God and to love others as we love ourselves. While people still suffer, while they lie down at night abused or bashed, raped or molested, lonely and neglected, despised and bullied, half-frozen or dehydrated from exposure, there will still be a Salvation Army.
It’s worth noting, after the biblical back and forth, that the writer of Mark records Jesus saying to his inquisitor, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. And after that? “No one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Do you question The Salvation Army’s holistic mission? Think social work is not part of what we are called to do? Take it up with Jesus.
Barry Gittins works in The Salvation Army's Social Program Department in Melbourne.