Below is an excerpt from an article co-authored by ESR Associate Professor of Theological Studies Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Rev. Jesse Jackson that originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
We Christians tend to focus on personal piety. When dealing with others, we become legalistic and concentrate on dos and the don'ts, mostly of other people. We delight in creating 11th commandments like, "thou shall not drink nor smoke" instead of treating each of these as a medical issue, which they are.
Piety and expressions of personal holiness are important. We praise piety but piety is personal, not communal. Piety did not free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. They had to convincingly plead genuine hardship and demand freedom before they could march out of slavery.
God is not only concerned about personal piety but with the social condition in which we find ourselves. During the prosperous kingdoms of Judah and Israel, the prophetic message to the people of Israel who had gone astray was not to increase their piety. It was a call to eschew luxury (Amos 6:4-6) do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Indeed the prophets routinely criticized the people for putting personal piety ahead of addressing oppression and doing justice.
Jesus preached piety, but only when it was rightly connected with right behavior, as taught by the Torah. His ministry, described in the gospels, focused on the social conditions in which many people found themselves. His concern centered on people who were poor, hungry, and cast out. He sought to meet their needs and to critique the systems which ignored their needs.
We see similarities to Jesus in the latest actions of Pope Francis. He has preached changes to the discourse of Christianity by challenging the idolatry of symbols, material wealth. He has preached a concern for those in need and those who are oppressed. Many are familiar with his radical acts of compassion that are symbolic and tangible. In one striking example, the Pope washed the feet of 12 prisoners, men and women from different parts of the world on Maundy Thursday.
The Pope is not concerned about the status quo. He challenges the status quo.
In his statements and actions, Pope Francis reveals a commitment to emulate the earthly ministry of Jesus. This is particularly clear in the Pope's focus not only on the condition of humanity's inner selves, but even more so on the conditions in which so much of humanity lives.
To read more, please visit the original article here. You can find more articles from Grace at her Huffington Post archive page here.