The Heart of the Matter Part 1

Published on 5 April 2022

Something that Jesus does in the Gospel of Luke shook my more “left leaning” perspective on social justice. By “left” I mean the focus on social justice as the fight against systemic oppression and seeking change in basic societal structures. However, Jesus seemed to have a different perspective on what is fair and where justice “starts”.

When a man in the crowd asks Jesus to tell his brother to divide their father’s inheritance with him, Jesus’ response is dismissive—even rude.  He says, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” (Luke 12:13-21) Then he tells a parable about the rich man who stored all the crops of his harvest but died before he could enjoy any of it.

Why was Jesus so dismissive of this matter if it was only fair that the inheritance be divided between them, and why add the loaded story at the end?

In essence, Jesus is saying that he will not be the judge because he has seen this man’s heart and what he will look like when he gets the inheritance: selfish and self-centred. The wealthy man in the parable never discussed with anyone what he was going to do with the crops and kept everything for himself. Today we don’t have a full understanding of how shameful this was in Middle Eastern culture.

So, what bearing does this have on us today? I know what I am going to say is an oversimplification when we consider all the structural and systemic injustices over generations on the continent. But when African countries became liberated from colonial powers during the 1950s, the liberators who fought worthy and just causes became as selfish as their predecessors. What followed was the storing of wealth for themselves and further injustices against the people they “liberated”, while keeping the privilege and status quo of their predecessors intact.

After reading the response of Jesus, I realised that it is not simply about the “haves” or the “have nots”. Jesus did not seem preoccupied with wealth, but rather what the things we want and keep reveals about our hearts. Whether we are part of the status quo and privileged or an activist fighting against injustices, the “condition of our heart” is a much greater barometer than the ideas and ideologies that we hold. Our hearts are often exposed through our actions and what we do with our relationships, resources and thought patterns. What happens at the “heart” of a group, national or global level is important, but what happens in the heart of an individual shapes what happens in a broader society. 

Consider Covid-19 and the havoc caused by virus droplets that range in diameter size from 20nm to 500nm. A nanometre is one billionth of a metre. These little droplets spread from one individual to the next and eventually cause the abrupt halt of daily activities, operations, interactions, and exchanges which affect global food security, health, economies, our contact with others, and all the things we take for granted. It exposes how unrelational our modern socio-economic systems are. The “solution” to the same little droplet is a global effort to understand the virus so we can develop a vaccine to inject into each individual to protect the greater good.

Now consider something “closer to home”. In July of 2021 a well-orchestrated and politically motivated (small, I hope) group of power-hungry individuals exploited the vulnerability of millions of people without jobs or resources. This lead to the destruction of what was built over years in a single week. It starts in KwaZulu Natal, and it quickly spreads across the country. This is perhaps just a glimpse of what could happen on a much larger scale if we do not build the necessary firewalls and create much greater opportunities for people. The solution, I think, lies in understanding and then “injecting” in each individual what will support their flourishing in their purpose and vocation for the greater good.

I want to bring the above together by telling you about what has been happening at the James 1:27 Trust since the completion of my PhD. I have transitioned from researching and evaluating the positives and problems in the Trust’s development model and language to integrating and implementing for the journey ahead.

The idea of a social network of relationally connected people investing in individuals as “social change agents” (as an expansive understanding of adoption) is emerging and growing. I believe it is important to share the learning, thinking and practices and be willing to go through any necessary unlearning.

In summary, Jesus exposes the heart, and we have a choice in how we respond to ourselves and to the world around us. It is overwhelming and it is a lot. We need a humble approach. With hearts exposed, grace sweeps in, courage flows and our minds creatively engage so we can think, feel, and act wisely, patiently, and maturely. We start to respond to others not from our impulses, fears, egos, and entanglements, but from a much deeper source of love, acceptance, and identity. We are learning this daily and hope that the Trust care model will still have far greater implications because it is drenched in prayer, deep learning, and detailed practice. Small, but hopefully significant.

I don’t want to simply leave you with the above and will share the more practical thinking and steps, so keep an eye out for Part 2.

Marlie Holtzhausen is an embedded researcher at the James 1:27 Trust building on the research findings of her PhD for futher postdoctorate research. Her aim is to build bridges between theory and practice through evidence based research that have tangible implications for development through an interdisciplinary approach within the social sciences. You can read Marlie's PhD here.