Recently, I saw the latest film adaptation of Les Misérables. Though I know the story well from Victor Hugo’s novel and have seen the live musical stage performance, something about this latest version especially moved me to tears.
It started during that pivotal scene when a bishop’s simple act of mercy and compassion saves Jean Valjean from prison after guards catch him with the bishop’s stolen silver. It wasn’t so much when the bishop also gave him the expensive candlesticks, or how he lovingly touched Valjean’s head in a fatherly blessing that got to me…
It was the fact that he called him “brother,” which Valjean himself marvels over in his subsequent solo, and which transforms his life and actions for the rest of the story. Through that one word, the priest saw through the pain and brokenness this man had endured, and he identified with him as more than a human being or a friend, but as his brother…as family.
Jesus and justice
To me, this was such a vivid expression of what is now termed the “theology of justice” or “biblical justice.”
As followers of Christ, our concern and service for the vulnerable and oppressed should be driven by Jesus’ example of compelling love and sacrifice for others.
One of the key ways our Savior engaged in restoring justice and redeeming us all was to leave His rightful place of glory and power to become one of us. He didn’t just observe safely from a distance or dutifully complete some quick assignment for His Father. He whole-heartedly embraced His mission of love by becoming human — our brother — and joining our family.
Last year, I had the privilege of attending The Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon. I was especially challenged by theologian Walter Brueggemann when he explained that the description of Jesus’ “compassion” is akin to the Hebrew word for “womb,” describing a mother’s intense, self-sacrificing love for her baby.
Again, I was moved by the portrayal of the love of a mother, much like I was by Victor Hugo’s description of brotherly love that strikes at the heart of the biblical aspect of justice. (Read my earlier blog post about this.)
To me, the growing numbers of Christians and churches engaging in movements like the Justice Conference demonstrate how thousands are being driven to join the dialogue and do something around justice-related issues such as poverty, disease, and human trafficking.
This love that identifies with the oppressed as our own brothers, sisters, and children is what sets us apart from the rest of the world as seekers of justice.
Like the echoes of one of my favorite songs, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
Learn more about biblical justice by joining us at this year’s Justice Conference in Philadelphia, February 22-24. While you’re there, swing by the Justice Film Festival, co-presented by World Vision.
You can take action to advocate for justice right now.
Send a message to your members of Congress. Tell them why your heart breaks for the poor and oppressed — and ask them to oppose major federal funding cuts to international assistance and work to ensure that these programs are protected. International assistance makes up just 1.4 percent of the overall federal budget, and there are few other places where dollars translate so directly into lives saved.