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Advocate of the Poor

Jesus the Litigator

by ANDREW J. SCHATKIN

I’ve been a New York-area lawyer for more than 30 years, but I also received a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1973. My theological studies intensified my desire to help make the world a more just and equal place. The practice of law gave me the means to do so. Today, I see a strangely distorted and mean-spirited view of Christianity dominating the media.

Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ, continues to intrigue all sectors of society, all peoples, all races, both rich, not so rich and, most particularly, the underclass and poor. In an age that emphasizes money, materialism, outright greed, and admiration for the rich and powerful, he offers an alternative.

Yet Jesus is an enigmatic and troubling figure. For many people in the world, he is seen as a kind of general love figure, the ultimate nice guy. After all, that’s what the world wants to see in other people – niceness, tolerance, humanity, and kindness. Far from being solely concerned with being loving and nice to people, however, he is the ultimate litigator. One might see Jesus as an advocate of the underclass. Perhaps one could see Jesus as a socialist or communist, since in the Gospels he seems to make a point of associating with and advocating for the poor and working class.

Jesus is the beginning point of advocating a new world system without class, economic, race, or sex divisions. Jesus is the ultimate litigator. But his litigation is for the poverty stricken and the underclass. Jesus was himself a working man, a carpenter, and he spent his entire life with working people or even less. He himself walked about with a group of working men, one a tax collector, and some fishermen, working miracles and making observations to the working class, for the most part. Jesus is criticized as consorting with undesirable people, or better put, tax collectors and sinners. Perhaps today, Jesus might be seen as a labor organizer, or a community organizer, opposing the forces of government and wealth.

Jesus did not respect or admire wealth or power. Quite to the contrary, he says the poor or humble – poor in spirit – are blessed, and that in future years, they will be the ruling class, replacing the present oligarchs and plutocrats. Jesus approached Jerusalem as a king, but rode on a donkey, with a somewhat disheveled appearance before the crowds. He was tried and executed as a criminal, and died beside criminals. He forgave a criminal beside him on the cross, and told him on that day he would be with him in paradise. When a woman was caught in adultery, and stood condemned, he forgave her, and told her to sin no more. He tells us not to merely love people that are attractive, friendly and nice to us, but even to love our enemies.

Jesus stands before all the world as the advocate and litigator for the poverty stricken of society and its fringe members. He tells the world that its values and attachment to the rich, famous and successful are wrong. Jesus advocates and litigates for what the world sees as the bottom of society and tells the world that he will raise them up from their poverty to the greatness that he says they deserve. Jesus litigates for a world without division, without dominance, without distinctions of class, wealth, or economic status. Jesus is the ultimate advocate for those whom the world concedes no value and no importance, for those the country clubs and mansions of the world exclude. He is the litigator for the 98% who are presently powerless before the forces of the world.

ANDREW J. SCHATKIN has been a New York-area attorney for more than 30 years. His articles on the law and society have been published frequently in journals such as the Nassau Lawyer and New York Criminal Law News. He is the author of "Select Legal Topics: Criminal, Federal, Evidentiary, Procedural, and Labor" (University Press of America ISBN 0-7618-4644-1) and "Essays on the Christian Worldview and Others Political, Literary, and Philosophical" (ISBN 978-0-7618-5343-5).