Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
The last several weeks in our communities have been marked by violence and injustice. Many leaders are speaking out and rightfully so.
In the Hebrew text the word for soul is the word Nephesh, which means breath. And the Jewish seat of the soul was not the heart or the head but actually the neck where the breath, wind, spirit could enter into. To deprive someone from breath is to in fact kill them.
And because of that, there’s a righteous anger…
People, community leaders and churches want to respond and help. There are words connected to this that include the words love, justice, inequality, racism. These are words that are thrown around but…
All of this is connected to the narrative of the Scriptures. So how does one respond, and what is a biblical response?
One of the places we can look is in Jesus vision of biblical love in the narrative of the good Samaritan. There is a theme of deliverance here that sees, identifies, and acts with both deliverance and inclusion.
And what kind of inclusion?
…Into a community of freedom, justice and responsibility.
The deeds of deliverance in the narrative include: wounds that are bandaged, a carrying into a safety of the inn, and payment for the stay.
Justice = Love.
A couple of very important points here on the subject of the Scripture. Nowhere do we see this idea of a Disney world “idealistic love” that is an impossible. Jesus view of love is focused with real initiatives to meet real needs.
This is connected to the greater Scriptural theme of Justice, bound up in the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah which all of the gospels drawn upon.
Here are the keys to understanding this theme in the Biblical text:
- God identifies with those suffering injustice.
- God sees the worldwide struggle.
- In terms of biblical language there are two key Hebrew words tsedaqah and mishpat to know.
- Tsedaqah can be translated as both righteousness and justice. It is a key word to understanding the covenants that God makes with his people. Righteousness is one side of the covenant coin and justice is on the other side of the covenant coin. It’s more often properly translated as justice.
- Mishpat is word used on the etiological spectrum for judgment, justice, ordinance, law… But its element form is justice. There is no law if there is no justice. A law without justice is an injustice law.
- Calculated different ways the words of justice sometimes cross over 1000 times versus words for love 300 times. Thus justice is emphasized about 3x that of love.
- In the gospels, the authorities were confronted with injustice over 50 times. The text shows that instead of repenting, they plotted the death of Jesus. In this way Jesus is identifying with injustice as the crucified God.
When we split Christian love from the justice upon which it is predicated we become dualistic with a view of the sacred and the secular. When we neglect teaching what biblical justice is and what it means we allow secular notions of justice to fill the vacuum and secular justice is inferior to Christian love and then Christians neglect biblical justice.
How do we avoid neglecting justice and avoiding God’s judgment?
We must look at the text that embodies most of the justice elements and creates a process for us in that. This would-be Jesus sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5-7 and then thematically reframed both in the book of James and in the book of Romans as justice threads by their authors.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will focus on the traditional (common) way of dealing with something…You have heard it said. Then he will talk about the bondage it creates and then he offers the solution. Here are a couple of relevant examples:
A. You shall not kill. The bondage is nursing anger and saying you fool. Our way around it, Go be reconciled while there is still time.
B. Love your neighbor, but neglect or hate your enemy. The bondage that leads to this vicious cycle of loving and greeting only those who love you and are like you, just like the tax collectors and Gentiles. The way around that endless cycle of destruction…love your enemies, pray for them, and to be inclusive as God your father is.
Again, how do we avoid neglecting justice and avoiding God’s judgment?
- We recognize God’s basis of love and justice is connected to deliver of the weak, helpless, oppressed, the poor.
- We recognize that tsedaqah is not punishment but deliverance. There’s so much that could be said here related to justice systems, penal systems connected back to the penance….
- We are to be communities that practice justice and advocate for justice. A relevant point here is connected to retaliation, on the Lextalionis “eye for eye” that is Matthew 5:38ff a better way of translating that passage is “Do not resist by evil means…” not “Do not resist an evil person.”
- We are to point to those deprived of rights and demand respect for the dignity of all life, made in the image of God.
- There is a need for checks and balances against concentrated power.
How to biblically fight for change.
As a person, I am more impressed with person who fights for justice taking action in the spirit of peace (the bond of peace) than I am with the person who sits passively doing nothing for that peace. Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi are instructive.
- The secular Enlightenment did not give us human rights. John Locke did not give us human rights, the Church’s teaching did.
- Support nonviolent initiatives to bring about change. See Dr. MLK, Gandhi they all stole it from Jesus.
- Critique humanistic liberalism as optimistic of human nature.
- Acknowledge sin on every social level.
- Basic ethics on reason alone too easily justifies our way of acting.
- Identify with people suffering and enter into their bondage that’s what Jesus does.
- Deliverance happens through deeds such as demonstrations, voting with money, aligning allies.
- A final thought request very specific objectives and hold accountable timelines.
“The dreamer is done, but the interpretation is not ended until we also are free.” -James Wm. McClendon