CHRISTOLOGY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
For Christians, authentic social justice is rooted in an orthodox Christology. In fact, if the quest for social justice is detached from its Christological roots it runs the risk of becoming a merely human endeavor motivated by a merely human end. In order to fully understand the Christological foundation of social justice, it is important to briefly explain the two basic types of Christology which dominate most theological circles today: Ascending (or Low) Christology and Descending (or High) Christology.
Ascending Christology is a Christology which begins with the earthly ministry of Jesus. It is deeply rooted in the Synoptic Gospels (Johnson, 74), and focuses very much on the true humanity of Jesus. As Elizabeth Johnson says, this Christology " tells the story of his compassionate ministry and of his impact on the women and men who followed him" (74). The focus of Jesus' earthly ministry was to announce that the "Reign of God" was at hand; indeed, the reign of God was present in the Person and actions of Jesus Christ. To understand how the reign of God was present in the Person of Jesus, in other words, how the actions of Jesus brought about the reign of God, one needs only to look at the Gospel stories. "In this new reality [the reign of God], as Jesus saw it, the longings of the 'little ones' of the world are especially fulfilled: the poor are included; mourners are comforted, those who hunger and thirst for justice are satisfied; the merciful, the pure of heart, those who have been persecuted are blessed of God; the peacemakers are called children of God (Mt. 5:3-10)" (J, 75).
Again, one need only to look at how Jesus understood His own ministry. In the Gospel of Luke He says, quoting Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord" (4:18-19). It is clear that Jesus had a special focus on the those who were considered the outcasts of society; those who were considered to be of little worth. What's more, Jesus not only expected His followers to imitate Him, He commanded it! How can we read the scene of the Last Judgement in the Gospel of Matthew and not have pangs of conscience if we have not responded to the call for social justice: "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me" (Mt. 25:45). An ascending Christology helps to focus us on the moral imperative given to us by Jesus Himself to strive for social justice here on earth. "In his own behavior he powerfully enacted the values of the reign of God" (J, 75). Christ not only willed that we imitate His actions to reach out to the outcasts of society; He also taught us that when we reject those who are "thirsting for justice" we are rejecting Him.
Descending Christology " begins its thinking in heaven with the doctrine of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God preexisting from all eternity in unity with the Father and the Spirit" (J, 69). This Christology is more "Incarnational focused"; in other words, it focuses on the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Jesus Christ entered the human condition as a human. Although He is a divine Person, by the power of the Holy Spirit He became a human being.
Perhaps no theologian of this century has so keenly united this type of Christology with the issue of social justice than Pope John Paul II. In his encyclical letter, Redemptor Hominis, John Paul takes this descending Christology as his starting point. His emphasis lies in the fact that through the Incarnation, Jesus Christ " in a certain way united Himself with each man" (RH, 8). Because of the reality of the Incarnation, each and every human person that has lived and ever will live has an inestimable dignity. John Paul is emphatic about the dignity that each and every person possesses; and he is also emphatic that this man, the man to whom Christ united Himself - each man - "is the way for the Church" (RH, 14). John Paul also says that the greatness and dignity of each person is found in the Redemptive act of Christ on Calvary. "Unceasingly contemplating the whole of Christ's mystery, the Church knows with all the certainty of faith that the Redemption that took place through the cross has definitively restored his dignity to man and given back meaning to his life in the world " (RH, 10).
It is precisely because of the dignity of the human person, a dignity that has been created anew through the Incarnation of Christ, that the Church must strive for social justice. It is especially important today, with all the new technological advances, that the dignity of the human person be protected. "What is in question is the advancement of persons, not just the multiplying of things that people can use" (RH, 16). The Pope stresses that new technology must be guided by and always coupled with morals and ethics (RH 15). Persons must not be used as objects, nor may they be exploited. This is why the Church must never cease to stand up for the dignity of the human person. The Church must speak out against unjust social and political structures, against unjust economic conditions, against any violations of human rights, precisely because each and every person has been created by God, redeemed by Christ, and is therefore of inestimable dignity.
This is far from an exhaustive look into the issue of Christology and social justice. However, we have seen that true social justice is rooted in, and motivated by, an orthodox Christology. In this world of so many injustices, we must meditate on the reality of the life and ministry of Jesus so that we may hear His call for justice in this world. We must also meditate on our own dignity, a dignity which each and every person possesses. We must understand that Christ died for every person. Maybe then we will understand the seriousness of the duty we have to bring justice to the world.
Mike Najim, St. John's Seminary
"My little friend, say to him: Jesus, knowing that I love you and that you love me, nothing else matters - all is well." -Blessed Josemaria Escriva
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