Sunday, December 14, 2014

True Justice

Do we truly believe in Justice? It's very popular to say we do. Religious denominations are constantly passing resolutions calling for "Justice" for this or that oppressed group. And it's good to be aware of oppression and injustice in a broad and universal sense.

Scripture tells us, however, that it's better, and more effective, to act justly every day to our fellow human beings. We can rather too easily SAY that we "love all people" with smug satisfaction, thinking we've done something simply by saying so.

But it's often harder to love the people who stand beside us, live among us and are seeking justice, kindness and mercy FROM us. But it's a challenge the prophets and Jesus say that God wishes us to take up and make a part of our daily lives.

Micah the prophet is often wisely quoted as telling us God wishes us to act in a just manner towards others. "HE has told you, O man, what is good; and what does GOD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (6:8)

Jeremiah is another prophet who speaks about justice, taking pains to note that justice starts WITHIN OURSELVES, in the amendment of our own actions, and this leads to peaceful living among each other:

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “Because if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail." (Jeremiah 7:1-8.)

Jesus echoes these words, saying we cannot simply say to God, "LORD, LORD," and not put His commandments, and the example of Jesus, into action within our lives.

Justice is achieved by individual acts of service and acts of kindness today, not in bold proclamations of what we will do in the future.

Isaiah said that God called Israel to, "Maintain justice and do what is right" (56:1) and that's a lesson for us today, as well. Elsewhere, after he famously calls for us to "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean" he says we must "learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow." This firmly places justice at the center of action, not theory or speculation, or good intentions.

The Roman world in which Jesus and his fellow Judeans lived was far from just. Rome ruled its empire by imperial decree, and Judea itself was governed through a puppet king, who himself was answerable to Pontius Pilate, the brutal and ruthless Roman governor.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for dealing with lesser matters, but neglecting, "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Matt. 23:23.) He said elsewhere in the Gospels that Jesus "will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. (Matt 12:18) and our acts were to be like a light and as salt to the world (Matt. 5:13-14.)

It is clear from the wisdom of Scripture and from our Master's words that our individual actions are the key to spreading justice, and that God wishes those who would be called "righteous" to act justly.

Today, it's very easy to have "deceptive words," that are without meaning without action. We must not refuse to take actual action within our own lives - concrete, specific and effective action that is LOCAL in nature and actually makes justice into something other than an abstraction.

- Good intentions and warm spiritual feelings we keep within us that are never acted upon do not bring justice.

- Mere angry words and endless proclamations condemning others' injustice do not in fact bring true justice to others better than our humble, everyday acts of justice and kindness.

- The condemnation of Good Works, and imagining Jesus does not require us to act righteously, does not bring justice.

So, let us renew in this coming year to instead LITERALLY act justly with others, letting each of our individual actions kindle justice to shine as a light to the world, spreading justice and equity wherever we go and in whatever we do!

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