Justice

This is another churchy blogpost. I haven’t been on here in a while, and a LOT of stuff has gone down since the last time I posted. The biggest things are the sudden, unexpected, heart-wrenching and world-changing loss of my wife to metastatic breast cancer on September 26 and then the Category 4/5 Hurricane Ian that slammed into our town two days later. Most of everything I’ve been doing since that time has been related to the aftermath of one or both of those things. But I’m trying to find a way forward through this mess.

One of the paths that I’m taking through the mess is work. Our church building is still in disarray, so it’s not really convenient to be in the office most of the time. Plus, I have a lot of extra running around to do on account of being a single dad. So I’m really just not in the office much. But I’m still working, just in different ways. Including returning to our weekly Bible/Book Study and, now, launching a twice-monthly cross-generational faith formation “event” following the Faith5 model.

In both the book study and the Faith5 event, the issue of justice came up, albeit in slightly different contexts. We’re studying Michael Hardin’s The Jesus Driven Life, which is all about discovering the non-violent, non-retributive God whom Jesus called Abba. In chapters 5 and 6, we’re talking about … well, we’re talking about a LOT of things, but the issue of justice came up in our discussion as an aspect of “shalom.” Normally we translate that word as “peace,” but that translation fails to capture the holistic character of God’s peace, which is about wholeness and restoration, not just of an individual, but of entire communities and the whole creation.

So, in that discussion, we turned to Matthew 5 and the sermon on the mount, where Jesus radicalizes his own scriptural tradition when he tells his listeners, “You have heard it said by men of old, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, don’t resist an evildoer. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the left.” You know the passage. Walter Wink famously pointed out that, in order for someone to strike me on the right cheek, unless they are using their (forbidden) left hand, the only way to strike that cheek is to do so with a backhand, colloquially named “a bitch slap.” I’m not shying from that term because the rawness of it captures the degradation and humiliation that phrase implies. As Wink points out, it’s violence done by a supposed superior against a supposed inferior. When Jesus says, “offer him the other, as well,” it’s a way to suggest that the slap-ee demands to be met as an equal, not as an inferior. It shames the aggressor and brings the possibility of justice, equality, wholeness.

In the Faith5 context, we were discussing our preaching text from the Narrative Lectionary, which included the famous line from Micah 6: “You know, O Mortal, what the LORD requires of you: Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

When I preached on that text, I pointed out the thing that all the prophets made clear: authentic worship, whether here in Jerusalem or there on Mount Gerazim, or in our building, or in the park, or wherever… it all amounts to nothing and is an offense to God if it isn’t accompanied by DOING – not just talking about, but actually DOING justice.

As an aside, but a relevant one, I also talked about how doing justice is a natural outcome of walking with God, because to know God through relationship is precisely what teaches us God’s will and directs our doing of justice. That “love kindness” bit again fails to capture the fullness of the word “chesed,” which is the kind of “steadfast love” (how we normally translated that) of God, which is self-emptying, co-suffering, and radically forgiving. (Shout-out to Brad Jersak and Vladika Lazar Pohalo for those phrases!)

The same person who had asked me in the book study to define what I meant by “justice” asked me again to define it in this Micah context. I began to give an answer, and someone else had something to say, so I stopped myself. I’m now glad I did, because the whole point was this: justice flows naturally, organically, from that co-suffering, radically forgiving, self-emptying love of God, which one can ONLY know by a humble walk with the divine. One of the ways Jesus phrased this in John’s Gospel was by using the vine and branches metaphor. You can’t really separate the branches from the vine. When they are connected – or mutually abiding, if you will – the line between the one and the other is blurred. And there you have it. Walk with Jesus, who EXUDES chesed, who EMBODIES shalom, who calls on us to IMITATE him as he imitates the Father.

We don’t need to DEFINE justice when we are ABIDING in justice. Don’t ask ME to say what justice is or isn’t. Look to Jesus. Because my suspicion is, “you know what is required of you.” Jesus already told you.