Which is more important: our human rights or our human responsibilities? It’s a tricky call, for if we press too hard for our rights then cave into selfish desires or simply do not care for others. Jesus’ example and teaching enable us to do both.
Many are familiar with the Human Rights act. It supports the right to life, right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment, right not to be held as a slave, right to liberty and security of the person, right to a fair trial, right not be retrospectively convicted for a crime, right to a private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly and association, right to marriage, right to an effective remedy, right not to be discriminated against, the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, and the right to an education.
Global news raises our awareness of our responsibilities. When we read of tragic events in the world our insistence on rights is seen in a new light. The recent news of Nepal’s second major earthquake in just over two weeks has aggravated an already desperate situation which killed over 8,000 and left millions in need of aid and assistance. Our own rights suddenly take back stage. We are aware of our responsibilities towards others.
Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension proclaim his true sovereignty. We are to live under Jesus’ kingly rule, within a new framework, a moral order. Jesus gave up his rights for you and me. Likewise, the Apostle Paul said that he gave up many rights as he followed his Lord’s example – he considered his own welfare to take second place. This holds true in terms of showing mercy to relieve poverty, illness and injustice. It also holds true in the greater matter of bringing salvation to others, the good news that Jesus offers forgiveness, a fresh start and a future hope. It led Paul to not insist on material support for his work: ‘But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ’ (I Corinthians 9v12b). As we fulfill our responsibilities to Jesus he will teach us and enable us to fulfill our responsibilities to others.