I come back to this topic occasionally because it really matters, and it is on my mind because I led a workshop at our PA SE Conference meeting of the UCC this past Saturday. The people who participate all had really good understandings of what it means to work for justice, and we talked about justice from a Jesus point of view, which is different from human justice. One of the topics I spoke about is this: most powerful people are not in favor of true justice because that would mean they would have to lose their power of justice to be achieved. This is why there are so many protests from the political left and right – they feel disempowered and will do almost anything to correct their perceived powerlessness.
For Jesus, justice was about lifting the oppressed and making the powerless visible. People with illnesses, like the woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years or the lepers Jesus came in contact with, were marginalized based on religious bigotry. He healed the afflicted with no restrictions, and spent little time focusing on changing the powerful and bigoted. It isn’t that bigots can’t change, but like the rich, it is very difficult to convince them of their need to live differently. Those who are wealthy are not convicted because of their wealth, but because they have turned money into an idol. They don’t want change either – their lives have turned out pretty well with the status quo.
Human justice cannot be fair and balanced because our systems are run by people, and people are flawed. That doesn’t mean that most of those who uphold the law aren’t really trying to be fair and compassionate – that is far from true. In fact, most officers of the court that I know do everything in their power to make sure the law is dispensed equally, but the system itself is a work in progress. We are still trying to work out the mistakes of the past, when laws favored some groups over others.
The problem with justice based on religion is that it perceives God as having human frailties, and therefore responding the way we do. We make God as punitive and violent as we are, and that is blasphemous. Jesus Justice, on the other hand, addresses the inequities created by selfish people and works to make things right. And Jesus didn’t make this up; He quotes Isaiah 61 (the year of God’s favor) in Luke 4, which is based on the Jewish concept of a year of Jubilee.
The Year of the Jubilee involved a year of release from indebtedness (freedom from all debt) ( Leviticus 25:23-38), and all types of bondage (vv. 39-55). All prisoners and captives were set free, all slaves were released, all debts were forgiven, and all property was returned to its original owners. This was to happen, in theory, every 50 years. According to chabad.org, it can only happen when all 12 tribes are in Israel at the same time. Still, the concept is clear – human beings can be unfair and greedy, so God, through the writers of Scripture, put this into place to try to return to some sense of balance and fairness. It is a way to redistribute that which was stolen.
I think that followers of Jesus should be very concerned about justice. It is foundational to our belief that all people are equal, and when that equality is threatened, we need to stand up and speak out. We should never act out in violence, but we should support those who seek the make the world better by peaceful means. We are not followers of Jesus for ourselves – we are followers of Jesus for the least among us. When they cry out for justice, we must be their allies. We really don’t have a choice.
Prayer – Help us, Holy God, to work for peace and justice for every person, not just ourselves. Amen.
Today’s is a painting from the article in chabad.org. I couldn’t find the name of the artist.