I recently came across a prayer for social justice that has been ringing in my mind ever since I first read it. It goes like this:
Righteous Lord God, you love justice and hate evil, and you care for the weak, vulnerable, needy, and the oppressed. Bless our country and its leaders with the wisdom of righteousness and peace. May they secure the right of protection for the unborn, equality of educational opportunities for the young, work for the unemployed, health care for the sick, and food for the hungry. Help management and labor to cooperate for the common good, giving honest work, and receiving a fair wage. Deliver our land from all tribal, social, and religious strife, and make our national life more pleasing in your holy sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I’ve been unable to get this prayer out of my head for three reasons. The first is its timeliness. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware of the ongoing social unrest that’s shaking our nation to its core. Cries for social justice and for people of all stripes to wake up to the plight of our black neighbors especially are ringing from shore to shore. Yet strangely, this prayer wasn’t voiced by an American believer in recent weeks but by the British Anglican priest John Stott who died in 2011. His prayer has a certain timelessness about it.
I haven’t been able to escape how Stott relates all these facets of social justice back to the character of God, who loves justice, hates evil, and cares for “the least of these.” Clearly, this is a prayer born out of no political agenda but a thoroughly biblical and richly theological vision.
Wherever racism, sexism, tribalism, classism, ageism, and all the other ism’s unmentioned by Stott are tolerated, if not encouraged, social injustice will abound. Until all these ism’s are no more, there will be no true social justice.
If you agree, if you’re like what I believe to be the majority of spiritually mature followers of Jesus in this hour, you may be asking, “But what can I do about it? Society was shattered when Adam fell way back in the Garden of Eden. What can I do but look forward to Jesus’ return, when he’ll heal all our fractures and mete out perfect justice to all?” I have two words for you: “Wake up!”
Long before “woke” became a popular twenty-first-century watchword, with a nineteenth-century origin, describing an awareness of issues concerning social and racial justice, Jesus commanded his disciples to “stay awake!” in Mark 13:33-37.
If you’re reading that passage in the King James or New International Version, the imperative there is to “watch” or “be on guard.” The problem with those translations is they mask the distinction between two different Greek words used by Jesus in this chapter.
He uses the word blepo, which is also translated “watch” or “take heed” in verses 5, 9, 23, and 33. But the word he uses in verses 34, 35, and 37 is Gregorio. It means to “be alert” or, as it’s rendered in the present imperative found in the English Standard Version, “stay awake!” God’s people are to be awakened people.
Conclusion: What will it take for John Stott’s prayer for social justice to be fulfilled, for Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to be realized? It will take us, just us, each and every one of us doing what we can, while we can, wherever we are to live out the implications of our hope in Jesus. And to do that, our eyes must be open. We must stay awake.
Before Mark 14 ends, Jesus comes to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane and finds them asleep—not once, not twice, but three times! As it was then, so it is now. The hour is late. The land is dark, but dawn is near. Are you awake?