Jesus: The First Social Worker (Guest Post)

Since the beginning of time this world has been dealing with sin and its consequences. Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden leads to many consequences – setting us...

Since the beginning of time this world has been dealing with sin and its consequences. Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden leads to many consequences – setting us up for a lifetime of relationship struggles that was not in God’s original plan. As life plays out we watch and see disastrous things start to happen – murder, theft, idolatry, and promiscuity with sexual behavior. God leads His people: in the Exodus movement, and finally with sending Jesus — God in the flesh — to this earth so that we would have power through the Holy Spirit to live a devoted, sinless, Christian life.

Yet, we all know that everyone is fallen, and even with God’s help through the Holy Spirit everyone suffers for the sin that has been introduced to this world long ago. As I shared in my first guest post on The Two Cities, as a medical social work student at the county medical center in the inner-city of Oakland, I feel like my whole day is spent trying to help people clean up after the consequences of their sins, and the sins of others. Some people like to call this “welfare”… I like to call it “love”.

When I first became a Christian at nineteen-years-old I began to read the Gospels and my eyes and heart were opened to the problems of sin and to what God was calling Christians to do — to love. And this love wasn’t going to be an easy love but a sacrificial and dangerous one. In Matthew 4:23-25 we read that Jesus went to the sick and demon-possessed, and continues to do so throughout his ministry. In Matthew 8:23-27 Jesus calms a storm and rescues the lives of his disciples from a natural disaster. In Matthew 14:13-21 Jesus feeds five thousand hungry people. Etcetera, etcetera, it’s pretty clear that most people know that these kinds of acts made up Jesus’ ministry.

To me, it just seems obvious that Jesus’ ministry, and his miracles performed within His ministry, were to “clean up” the consequences of sin in this world – this is how he chose to show His love to humankind. He reached out to people no one else wanted to communicate or have a relationship with, and He told His disciples that they were to “love” these people. And then as a final sacrifice, He gave His life so that people who believed in Him would never taste death. Could it be that Jesus taught us to help people with the consequences of their sin so that we could eventually lead them to a place where they would never have to experience the ultimate consequence of sin?

A friend of mine was telling me about her father who has recently fallen away from Christianity. One of the things he said was that he would become a Christian again when there was no social welfare state in America. He just couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of the American church anymore as people who preach this “social gospel” but never live it out. Many of my classmates and professors at UC Berkeley feel the same way – they like to call me Mother Theresa and are often shocked at my willingness to serve low-income populations. Even in my second day of classes at one of the most “liberal” schools in America, my Jewish professor said that Jesus was the first example of a social worker we have in literature. This blew my mind.

So to be honest, I would love to have this “social gospel” and “social justice” conversation through The Two Cities blog because it is so relevant in churches today. As a starting point, I think it would be helpful to have readers write some feedback about how this post made them feel and what it made you think. Share your struggles with this topic as I would love to walk alongside and learn with you all.

Carrie Allen is currently a student at the University of California at Berkeley where she is studying for a Masters in Social Welfare. Before coming to the Bay Area she was born and raised in Los Angeles, California where she studied Theology at Biola University and Fuller Theological Seminary. Carrie is currently interning in the inner-city of Oakland working as a medical social worker. Some of her interests are public health and the prevention of disease in inner-cities, and how the Christian church should be responding to social justice issues. Carrie likes to spend her free time reading, watching PBS, leading Bible studies for Campus Crusade for Christ at Cal, and hassling the Two Cities bloggers about letting a female writer join the club. Carrie can be reached at carrieallen@berkeley.edu

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  • Steph
    27 February 2012 at 2:00 pm

    “Could it be that Jesus taught us to help people with the consequences of their sin so that we could eventually lead them to a place where they would never have to experience the ultimate consequence of sin?” — LOVE IT!

    I also think there is so much about redemption in social work. I think that since Jesus conquered sin and death, we can be confident that no matter the darkness we come across (I work for child protective services), the darkness is no match for the light and hope Jesus provides.

    And, Carrie, the last paragraph made me laugh. Did you really ask how this post “made you feel?” haha… SUCH a social worker!! 😉 (I think it is a great question, btw)

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  • Carrie Allen
    27 February 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Hey Steph – thanks for the feedback! Im so happy that both you and I have been moved by our theology education to enter into a field of service and sacrifice.

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  • nancy
    27 February 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Carrie, l loved your blog and l totally agree that Jesus sets the example for us to give of ourselves to others.
    l am not a fan of our welfare system. My sister took full advantage of the system. She did not pay one dime to have her five children delivered. They all had medical, food stamps and housing for most of her life. l think my sister worked a total of six months in the thirty five years she lived. l need to mention that she died of an drug overdose. Even though she didn’t work, Social Security is sending a check for a thousand dollars a month for the children.
    Needless to say, she needed Jesus! She chose to live a life dependent on what she could ‘get’ from others (family, friends, welfare and
    churches), she learned as so many others, to play the system. Her life could have been so much more fulfilled if she took personal responsibility for her actions, and if she chose Jesus.
    l wish there was a ‘pay back’ way, so those taking out of the system could pay it back. Love you so much Carrie! Keep blogging and keep your heart soft for Jesus <3

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  • Carrie Allen
    27 February 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Nancy – thanks for the personal feedback and encouraging thoughts!

    I was so sad to hear about your sister passing in January. Having three younger sisters, I cannot imagine what if would be like to experience all of what she went through in this life and then losing her so young.

    It’s hard for me to fully understand the weight of drug and alcohol addiction, but I know from experience as a social worker that my clients/patients express their difficulties with becoming clean.

    We talk a lot about the stigma of welfare and how maybe it wouldn’t look so negative if other things were called “welfare” than just food stamps, section 8 housing, social security etc. I know I wouldn’t be able to be in school right now without my yearly tax return from earned income tax credit (which is based on my limited income), and also my grants and low interest government loans to pay my tuition. I may not be on what is known as traditional welfare but the government is definitely helping me out in many ways.

    Thanks for the reminder about keeping my heart soft – that is ALWAYS my prayer! Love you and thanks for reading and commenting!!

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  • Steven
    28 February 2012 at 1:47 am

    I think you’re totally right in saying that Jesus was and is a social worker. There’s no doubt that Jesus came to preach the Good News to the poor, to give sight to the blind, to heal the lame, and to set the captives free.

    That truth is extremely, extremely important. But at the same time, I find that I need to understand that I am and continue to be a charity case in the eyes of Jesus (and yes, I stole that from chapter 7 of Blue Like Jazz which I read last night, haha). Though we are now counted as royal heirs within God’s Kingdom (weird dichotomy, ain’t it?). But, in the end, it’s about grace. We were all once poor, dejected, and subject to disease. And even as a Christian, I (as I can only speak for myself) continue to take advantage of the system of Jesus’ grace and yet, He continues to love me, pursue me, and teach me despite my apathy and indecisiveness. This doesn’t mean that my abuse of the system is justified, but it means that I need to draw closer to Jesus and His love, which is hard and scary for “a wretch like me”. I think it’s from this humble realization that we find the motivation to love and serve as Jesus did. As we continue in this movement towards Jesus, we can help others in their movements towards Him – loving others and providing for others as Jesus does for us; as Jesus was sent, so He sends us, right?

    I think too that your article brings up an important question (which may or may not be best to discuss here): Christians’ interaction with the government and the government’s role in providing for its citizens (if there is one?). What is the church’s role in a welfare state (and I’m not necessarily using that term negatively) such as ours and should that or could that be changed?

    Also, you should check out ccda.org – they’re doing some really sweet stuff with what you’re talking about!

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  • Carrie Allen
    29 February 2012 at 2:47 am

    hey Steven,

    thanks for taking the time to comment! I really appreciate all of your thoughts and feedback. I love your reminder about us being a “charity case” – such a cool way to look at it. I definitely want to read “Blue Like Jazz” again over the summer and I am glad to hear you are reading it. Free plug for Donald – make sure to see the movie, everybody – it’s wonderful!

    Back to being a charity case – I am just so happy you reminded me of this! It is so true how we take and take and take from Jesus and still are disobedient to His call on our lives. I will definitely be meditating on that this week!

    And yes, He has sent us! And He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us along.

    Church and state is always a good conversation to have and I am always willing to have it. I don’t really come down with a hard stance on this issue as of now. I think I have a good idea of what works/doesn’t work… and would might work/would never work. I think that in this area it is wise to stay humble and accept the fact that politics, culture, and this world will always be changing, and that sometimes we need to adjust with this change. Like for instance, if in the future the president one day said, lets kill all children who are 5-years-old to make more room in schools, Christians would definitely have to step up and fight against it. But anyway, I think I might keep these conversation to my own blog unless John Dunne (blogger) convinced me otherwise… :)

    Finally, thanks for the link – I will check it out.

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  • Jesse Mir
    22 April 2012 at 6:45 pm

    Hi Carrie,
    I just used your picture of Jesus with the children and widow in a note on facebook, and then realized that you were writing about the same thing, except I asked “can Christians be social workers?”

    It does seem that Jesus was conscious of those in material need, especially in the Gospel of Luke. And your right, the needs in this world seem to point to the bigger issue at hand, our sin-sickness in the world.

    My note on facebook said that Social workers can exude the love of Christ in their profession, and still be professional about it! I think there is a fear for Christians to go out of their churches and into the world, and let Christ go with them. We need to get out of our comfort of the church, and walk among the common people. This is where social work enters the scene…

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    • Carrie Allen
      5 November 2012 at 1:01 am

      Amen, Jesse! Thanks for your thoughts!!

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  • Brianna Faith
    22 December 2014 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Carrie, they’re appreciated.

    I am going to join a Christian college in the fall to become a social worker. Although I am certainly not a social, extroverted person, and this is a tough thing for me I believe that this is what I’m supposed to do. It has always seemed to me, that the call of any Christian is to be – in a sense- a “social worker” for Christ. That’s what He did all the while He was on earth, He cared for the people that society rejected and hurt. I guess deep down I’ve always viewed Him as a social worker.

    James 1:27 says that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

    So as hard as it is and will be for me to step out of my comfort zone and into the social work field, I believe that it is my calling as a Christian to follow in Christ’s footsteps and show people what love is through my actions.

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