Jesus had a special sense of mission to poor and oppressed people. At the outset of his ministry, sometimes referred to as Jesus’ mission statement, Jesus stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and read from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
The biographies of Jesus depict him repeatedly reaching out to those at the bottom of the social pyramid–poor people, women, Samaritans, lepers, children, prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus was also eager to accept people who were well-placed, but he made clear that all, regardless of social position, needed to repent. For this reason, he invited the rich young man to sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.
Jesus commanded, “Love your neighbour.” When asked to define “neighbour,” Jesus expanded the traditional meaning of the word–defining our neighbour as anyone who is in need, including social outcasts: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:13)
In his portrayal of the day of judgment, Jesus pictured people from all nations gathered before him, separated into “sheep” and “goats.” (Matthew 25:31-46) To the “sheep” he says, “Come you blessed of my Father, for I was hungry and you fed me…” In their astonishment they ask, “When did we do that?” And he answers, “When you did it to the lowliest of my brothers (and sisters).” Conversely, to the “goats” he says, “Out of my sight, you who are condemned, for I was hungry and you did not feed me…”
Jesus himself cared for those in need by feeding the hungry. Crowds of four thousand and five thousand had assembled to listen to Jesus. They soon became hungry. When his disciples suggested that Jesus send the people away to buy food, he responded by saying “I have compassion on these people…” and “you give them something to eat.” He proceeded to perform miracles to feed these large crowds of hungry people.
Adapted from J. Bennett Guess, “Biblical Foundations for Justice Advocacy,” UCC Justice and Witness Ministries.