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The Social Principles Of Jesus by Walter Rauschenbusch

Chapter III. Standing With The People

We have found two simple and axiomatic social principles in the fundamental convictions of Jesus: The sacredness of life and personality, and the spiritual solidarity of men. Now confront a mind mastered by these convictions with the actual conditions of society, with the contempt for life and the denial of social obligation existing, and how will he react? How will he see the duty of the strong, and his own duty?


First Day: The Social Platform of Jesus

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book, and found the place where it was written,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down: and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth: and they said, Is not this Joseph's son? -- Luke 4:16-22.

Luke evidently felt that this appearance of Jesus in the synagogue of his home city at the outset of his public work was a significant occasion. The passage from Isaiah (61:1f) was doubtless one of the favorite quotations of Jesus. He saw his own aims summarized in it and he now announced it as his program. Its promises were now about to be realized. What were they? Glad tidings for the poor, release for the imprisoned, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and a |year of Jehovah.| If this was an allusion to the year of Jubilee (Lev.25), it involved a revolutionary |shedding of burdens,| such as Solon brought about at Athens. At any rate, social and religious emancipation are woven together in these phrases. Plainly Jesus saw his mission in raising to free and full life those whom life had held down and hurt.

|As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them.| Must the platform of Jesus be our platform and program?

Second Day: The Social Test of the Messiah

And the disciples of John told him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to the Lord, saying, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? And when the men were come unto him, they said, John the Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits; and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered and said unto them, Go and tell John the things which ye have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me. Luke 7:18-23.

Was Jesus the Coming One? He did not quite measure up to John's expectations. The Messiah was to purge the people of evil elements, winnowing the chaff from the wheat and burning it. His symbol was the axe. Jesus was manifesting no such spirit. Was he then the Messiah?

Jesus shifted the test to another field. Human suffering was being relieved and the poor were having glad news proclaimed to them. Sympathy for the people was the assured common ground between Jesus and John. Jesus felt that John would recognize the dawn of the reign of God by the evidence which he offered him.

What, then, would be proper evidence that the reign of God is gaining ground in our intellect and feeling?

Third Day: The Church, a Product of Social Feeling

And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest. And he called unto him his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. -- Matt.9:35-10:1.

The selection of the Twelve, their grouping by twos, and their employment as independent messengers, was the most important organizing act of Jesus. Out of it ultimately grew the Christian Church. Now note what motives led to it. Jesus was relieving social misery. He was oppressed by the sense of it. The Greek verbs are very inadequately rendered by |distressed and scattered.| The first means |skinned, harried|; the second means |flung down, prostrate.| The people were like a flock of sheep after the wolves are through with them. There was dearth of true leaders. So Jesus took the material he had and organized the apostolate -- for what? The Church grew out of the social feeling of Jesus for the sufferings of the common people.

To what extent, in your judgment, does the Church today share the feeling of Jesus about the condition of the people and fulfil the purpose for which he organized the apostolate? Or has the condition of the people changed so that their social needs are less urgent?

Fourth Day: Jesus Took Sides

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you, ye that laugh now for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets. -- Luke 6:20-26.

In these Beatitudes, as Luke reports them, Jesus clearly takes sides with the lowly. He says God and the future are not on the side of the rich, the satiated; the devotees of pleasure, the people who take the popular side on everything. Ultimately the verdict will be for those who are now poor and underfed, who carry the heavy end of things, and who have to stand for the unpopular side. In the report of the Beatitudes given by Matthew (5:3-12) the terms are less social and more spiritual, and the contrast between the upper and lower classes is not marked; but even there the promise of the great reversal of things is to the humble and peaceable folk, the hard hit and unpopular; they are to inherit the earth, and also God's kingdom.

Would it make Jesus a wiser teacher and nobler figure if he had reversed his sympathies?

Fifth Day: Salvation through the Common People

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father; for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. -- Luke 10:21.

For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory before God. -- 1 Cor 1:26-29.

The actual results of his work proved to Jesus that his success was to be with the simple-minded, and not with the pundit class. He accepted the fact with a thrill of joy, and praised God for making it so. Paul verified the same alignment in the early Church. The upper classes held back through pride of birth or education, or through the timidity of wealth. In bringing in a new order of things, God had to use plain people to get a leverage.

What really was it that Jesus saw in the lowly to attract him?

Sixth Day: Jesus, a Man of the People

And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village that is over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any one say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. Now this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,

Tell ye the daughter of Zion,
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee,
Meek, and riding upon an ass,
And upon a colt the foal of an ass.

And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their garments; and he sat thereon. And the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, Who is this? And the multitudes said, This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee. -- Matt.21:1-11.

Here was a democratic procession! No caparisoned charger, but a burro -- though a young and frisky one, carefully selected -- no military escort with a brass band and a drum major, but a throng of peasants, shouting the psalms of their fathers and the hope of a good time coming; no costly rugs to carpet the way of the King, but the sweat-stained garments of working people and branches wrenched off by Galilaean fists. What was he, this King of the future, ridiculous or sublime?

If Jesus is ever to make his entry into the spiritual sovereignty of humanity, will the social classes line up as they did at Jerusalem?

Seventh Day: The Final Test for All

But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me. And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life. -- Matt.25:31-46.

|Whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.| Think of it -- absolute justice done at last, by an all-knowing Judge, where no earthly pull of birth, wealth, learning, or power will count, and where all masks fall! By what code of law and what standard shall we be judged there? Here is the answer of Jesus: Not by creed and church questions, but by our human relations; by the reality of our social feeling; by our practical solidarity with our fellow-men. If we lived in the presence of hunger, loneliness, and oppression, in the same country with child labor, race contempt, the long day, rack rents, prostitution, just earnings withheld by power, the price of living raised to swell swollen profit -- if we saw such things and remained apathetic, out we go.

You and I -- to the right or the left?

Study for the Week

No one can turn from a frank reading of the Gospels without realizing that Jesus had a deep fellow-feeling, not only for suffering and handicapped individuals, but for the mass of the poorer people of his country, the peasants, the fishermen, the artisans. He declared that it was his mission to bring glad tidings to this class; and not only glad words, but happy realities. Evidently the expectation of the coming Reign of God to his mind signified some substantial relief and release to the submerged and oppressed. Our modern human feeling glories in this side of our Saviour's work. Art and literature love to see him from this angle.


His concern for the poor was the necessary result of the two fundamental convictions discussed by us in the previous chapters. If he felt the sacredness of life, even in its humble and hardworn forms, and if he felt the family unity of all men in such a way that the sorrows of the poor were his sorrows, then, of course, he could not be at ease while the people were |skinned and prostrate,| |like sheep without a shepherd.| Wherever any group has developed real solidarity, its best attention is always given to those who are most in need. |The whole have no need of a physician,| said Jesus; the strong can take care of themselves.

So he cast in his lot with the people consciously. He slept in their homes, healed their diseases, ate their bread, and shared his own with them. He gave them a faith, a hope of better days, and a sense that God was on their side. Such a faith is more than meat and drink. In turn they rallied around him, and could not get enough of him. |The common people heard him gladly.|

Furthermore, the feeling of Jesus for |the poor| was not the sort of compassion we feel for the hopelessly crippled in body or mind. His feeling was one of love and trust. The Galilaean peasants, from whom Peter and John sprang, were not morons, or the sodden dregs of city slums. They were the patient, hard-working folks who have always made up the rank and file of all peoples. They had their faults, and Jesus must have known them. But did he ever denounce them, or call them |offspring of vipers|? Did he ever indicate that their special vices were frustrating the Kingdom of God? They needed spiritual impulse and leadership, but their nature was sound and they were the raw material for the redeemed humanity which he strove to create.


There is one more quality which we shall have to recognize in the attitude of Jesus to |the poor.| He saw them over against |the rich.| Amid all the variations of human society these two groups always reappear -- those who live by their own productive labor, and those who live on the productive labor of others whom they control. Practically they overlap and blend, but when our perspective is distant enough, we can distinguish them. In Greek and Roman society, in medieval life, and in all civilized nations of today -- barring, of course, our own -- we can see them side by side. Each conditions the other; neither would exist without the other. Each class develops its own moral and spiritual habits, its own set of virtues and vices. Some of us were born in the upper class, some in the lower; and in college groups the majority come from the border line. By instinct, by the experiences of life, or by national reflection, we usually give our moral allegiance to one or the other, and are then apt to lean to that side in every question arising.

Now, Jesus took sides with the group of toil. He stood up for them. He stood with them. We can not help seeing him with his arm thrown in protection about the poor man, and his other hand raised in warning to the rich. If we are in any doubt about this, we can let his contemporaries decide it for us. Plainly the common people claimed him as their friend. Did the governing classes have the same feeling for him? It seems hard to escape the conclusion that Jesus was not impartial between the two. Was he nevertheless just? To the aesthetic sense, and also to a superficial moral judgment, the upper classes are everywhere more congenial and attractive. To the moral judgment of Jesus, as we shall see more fully in a later chapter, there was something disquieting and dangerous about the spiritual qualities of |the rich,| and something lovable and hopeful about the qualities of the common man. Was he right? This is a very important practical question for all who are disposed to follow his moral leadership.

The perception that Jesus championed the people can be found throughout literature and art. Our own Lowell has expressed it in his |Parable| in which he describes Jesus coming back to earth to see |how the men, my brethren, believe in me.|

|Have ye founded your thrones and altars, then,
On the bodies and souls of living men?
And think ye that building shall endure,
Which shelters the noble and crushes the poor?

|With gates of silver and bars of gold
Ye have fenced my sheep from their Father's fold;
I have heard the dropping of their tears
In heaven these eighteen hundred years.

|Then Christ sought out an artisan,
A low-browed, stunted, haggard man,
And a motherless girl, whose fingers thin,
Pushed from her faintly want and sin.

|These set he in the midst of them,
And as they drew back their garment-hem
For fear of defilement, |Lo, here,| said he,
'The images ye have made of me.' |


We shall get the historical setting for Christ's championship of the people by going back to the Old Testament prophets. They were his spiritual forebears. He nourished his mind on their writings and loved to quote them. Now, the Hebrew prophets with one accord stood up for the common people and laid the blame for social wrong on the powerful classes. They underlined no other sin with such scarlet marks as the sins of injustice, oppression, and the corruption of judges. But these are the sins which bear down the lowly, and have always been practiced and hushed up by the powerful. |Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy.... Ye trample upon the poor, and take exactions from him of wheat; ... ye that afflict the just, that take a bribe, and that turn aside the needy in the gate from their right.... For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have sold the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; they that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor| (Amos 4:1; 5:11-12; 2:6-7). Micah describes the strong and crafty crowding the peasant from his ancestral holding and the mother from her home by the devices always used for such ends, exorbitant interest on loans, foreclosure in times of distress, |seeing the judge| before the trial, and hardness of heart toward broken life and happiness (Micah 2:1-2; 2:9; 3:1-2). We cannot belittle the moral insight of that unique succession of men. Their spiritual force is still hard at work in our Christian civilization, especially in the contribution which the Jewish people are making to the labor movement.


Among the Greeks and Romans political and literary life was so completely dominated by the aristocratic class that no such succession of champions of the common man could well arise. Yet some of the men of whom posterity thinks with most veneration were upper-class champions of the common people -- Solon, for instance, Manlius, and the Gracchi.

In recent centuries the vast forces of social evolution seem to have set in the direction toward which Jesus faced. Since the Reformation the institutions of religion have been more or less democratized. The common people have secured some participation in political power and have been able to use it somewhat for their economic betterment. They share much more fully in education than formerly. Before the outbreak of the Great War it seemed safe to anticipate that the working people would secure an increasing share of the social wealth, the security, the opportunities for health, for artistic enjoyment, and of all that makes life worth living. Today the future is heavily clouded and uncertain; but our faith still holds that even the great disaster will help ultimately to weaken the despotic and exploiting forces, and make the condition of the common people more than ever the chief concern of science and statesmanship.

Jesus was on the side of the common people long before democracy was on the ascendant. He loved them, felt their worth, trusted their latent capacities, and promised them the Kingdom of God. The religion he founded, even when impure and under the control of the upper classes, has been the historical basis for the aspirations of the common people and has readily united with democratic movements. His personality and spirit has remained an impelling and directing force in the minds of many individuals who have |gone to the people| because they know Jesus is with them. In fact we can look for more direct social effectiveness of Jesus in the future, because the new historical interpretation of the Bible helps us to see him more plainly amid the social life of his own people.


So we must add a third social principle to the first two. The first was that life and personality are sacred; the second that men belong together; the third is that the strong must stand with the weak and defend their cause. In his description of the Messianic Judgment, Jesus proposed to recognize as his followers only those who had responded to the call of human need and solidarity. He created the apostleship and therewith the germ of the Church in order to serve the people whose needs he saw and felt.

How does this concern college men and women? By our opportunities and equipment we rank with the strong. Disciplined intellect is armor and sword. Many of us have inherited social standing and some wealth; it may not be much, but it raises us above the terrible push of immediate need. What relation do we propose to have with the great mass of men and women who were born without the chances which have fallen to us without exertion? Do we propose to serve them or to ride on them? Will we seek to gain some form of power by means of which we can live in plenty, with only slight and pleasurable exertion? In that case we can hardly return to our fellow-men in work as much as we take from them in enjoyment and luxury. We shall be part of that dead weight which has always bent the back of the poor. Is that an honorable ambition? Or do we propose to enter the working team of humanity and to hold up our end? Our end ought to be heavier than the average because we have had longer and better training. |To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.|

The moral problem for college communities is accentuated when we remember that few students pay fully for what they get. Whether our institutions are supported from taxation or from endowments, a large part of their incomes are derived from the annual labor of society; tuitions pay only a fraction of the running expenses and of the interest on the plant. Even if a student pays all charges, he is in part a pensioner on the public. The working people in the last resort support us; the same people who are often so eager for education, and who can not get it. Some of them would feel rich if they had the leavings of knowledge which we throw to the floor and tread upon in our spirit of surfeit. To take our education at their hands and use it to devise ways by which we can continue to live on them, seems disquieting even to a pagan conscience. It ought to be insufferable to a sense of social responsibility trained under Christian influences.

Here is a test for college communities more searching than the physical test of athletics, or the intellectual tests of scholarship. Do we feel our social unity with the people who work for their living, and do we propose to use our special privileges and capacities for their social redemption?

|When wilt Thou save the people?
O God of Mercy, when?
Not kings and lords, but nations,
Not thrones and crowns, but men.
Flowers of Thy heart, O God, are they.
Let them not pass like weeds away,
Let them not fade in sunless day!
God save the people!| -- EBENEZER ELLIOTT.

Suggestions for Thought and Discussion

I. The Partisanship of Jesus

1. Did Jesus really take sides with the poor? Prove it.

2. Try to prove the other side.

3. Which would be safer evidence: single sayings, or the total impression of his life and teachings?

4. What do you conclude regarding the attitude of Jesus?

II. The Church and the People

1. What motives led Jesus to organize and send out the twelve? What was the historical significance of that action?

2. When and how did the Church lose its working class character?

3. Does the Church today share Jesus' feelings about the condition of the people? Sum up evidence for and against.

4. What is the true function of the Church in society so far as the poor are concerned?

III. Standing up for the People Today

1. Is it a superficial or profound test to range a man according to his sympathy with the common people?

2. What does it involve to stand up for the people today? How does it differ from charity and relief work?

3. Name some men and women in our own times who seem to have stood up for them most wisely and effectively.

4. What are the vices of social reformers?

IV. The Concern of College Men and Women

1. How can college men and women make a just return for their special opportunities?

2. What movements in college and university life in recent years are in line with this social principle of Jesus?

3. What part have the university students of Russia, Austria, Germany, and England taken in social movements? Have American students ever taken a similar interest in working class movements? If not, why not?

V. For Special Discussion

1. Is it an advantage or disadvantage to Christianity that it began among the working class? What effects did that have on its ethical points of view and its impulses?

2. Why did the regeneration of ancient society have to come through the lowly? Will it have to come the same way today?

3. Is it ethical to live without productive labor? Is it morally tolerable to enjoy excessive leisure purchased by the excessive toil of others?

4. Is there any clear conviction on this question in the Christian Church today?

5. Is the fact that a person has sprung from the working-class a guarantee that he will have the working-class sympathies?

6. Who seem to have more natural democratic feeling, the men or the women of the upper classes?

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