Compassion: Social Justice
Scripture: Deuteronomy 32:1-4
Social Justice, Reclaiming a Biblical Perspective – Dt. 32:1-4
It doesn’t take long being around a group of children before you hear the phrase painfully and soulfully cried out, “That’s not fair!” It’s not like parents are sitting around teaching their kids this line. The perception of what is fair and unfair, justice and injustice seems to be in our DNA. Today, as we continue our series called compassion, we’re going to explore the subject of SJ.
SJ is a loaded term and has many viewpoints. Someone campaigning for SJ may be promoting a socialist utopian world envisioned by Karl Marx or it could be a theologian discussing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I heard that the United Nations has identified 130 SJ issues: refugees rights, racism, gender inequality, slavery, human trafficking, sexual orientation inequality, guaranteed income rights, abortion rights, water rights, education rights, etc. It seem like the cry “It’s not fair” continues on well into adulthood although in all too many cases…there is real injustice.
What does all this tell us? We live in a broken world. That pretty well reflects what we see in the Bible. It wasn’t always this way. God created a world in which Adam and Eve lived in nothing but perfect relationships. Their relationship to one another, to the world, to the environment, to the animals and to God himself. But when sin entered it broke all of these relationships. What we see when we see injustice is broken relationships.
There are over 2,000 references in the Bible to the topic of social justice. Why so many? Dt. 32:3-4 tells us why. This is the beginning of what’s called The Song of Moses and it describes God. I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! 4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. All of God’s ways are perfect and just, not just some of them. Everything God does is just simply because that is who God is. His very nature is justice. The Bible is filled with passages that speak of justice because that is WHO God is.
God’s justice was intended to be a part of the social and civil code of the ancient nation of Israel. Here’s an example of that. Exodus 23:6-9a, Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. 9 “Do not oppress a foreigner…. Israel was to embody the justice of God.
In the Hebrew language, the language of the OT, there are two primary words for justice. One is mishpat. Mishpat is a legal term used to describe what a wronged person should justly receive to restore their loss. Israel was an agrarian society. Let’s say someone accidently killed my cow. Mishpat was what the law said was my right to restitution. A sense of fairness is in the word.
The second Hebrew that could be translated as just or even righteous is Tzadik. Tzadik refers to the act of being just, the act of being righteous. When a person lives the justice of mishpat they are Tzadik.
The reason for the brief Hebrew lesson is because when these words are used together, as they often are in the OT, they paint the Biblical picture of what SJ is. Psalm 33:5, The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 72:1-2, Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. 2 May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.
When God sees pregnant mother and the father has walked away and no family support given safety and housing and care, like at Harvest Home, He is pleased. When he sees children who have experienced trauma and abandonment being loved and cared for, like in the organization Peace4Kids, he is pleased. When he sees the employer fairly paying his workers for a day’s work, He is pleased. When he see unemployed people receiving skills to contribute to society and care for their needs, he is pleased. Unfortunately, that’s not what he saw when he looked at Israel. Is. 58:2-3, For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways…They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them…“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Amos 1:6-7a, For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. 7 They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. God take justice seriously.
Not surprisingly, when we turn to the NT and the teachings of Jesus we see acts of social justice being held up. In today’s Gospel reading we heard of the end times in which Jesus is the final judge. All people stand before Jesus, divided into 2 groups, the sheep on his right and goats on his left. Mt. 25:34-40, …take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Jesus describes the life of those forgiven of their sins in terms of social justice. And Jesus added, as we live justly, we are caring for Jesus.
But we have the hard reality that no matter how hard we try to live and speaking justly, that’s not what happens … and we fall short … at times, even short our own expectations. Brokenness breaks in and relationships with others and our world are stressed and broken. Our relationship with God is betrayed and broken. Unfortunately, it’s part of the hurting human experience.
That is what makes the Bible’s message of God’s love and forgiveness so incredibly sweat. Let me speak of Jesus and forgiveness in terms of justice. As we saw, God is perfectly just. You and I are not perfectly just, perfectly righteous. This separates us from God and our injustice needs to be punished by a perfectly just God. The punishment is spiritual death, separation from God. While there is nothing we can do about this separation, God was able to. He sent his son, Jesus who lived the perfectly just life and he willingly took our injustice on himself and suffered the consequences that we deserved. What happened on the cross is sometimes called the great exchange. Jesus took our injustice, our sin placed it on himself and in return he took his rightness his perfect justice and places it on us. That is the sweetest of all exchanges. Listen to how the book of Romans 5:21 describes this exchange, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Having received the rightness and justice of Jesus, we seek to conform our lives in word and action to the justice of God. That’s why we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger and visit the sick and imprisoned.
It’s our desire here at FLV to be a light of God’s justice in our community.
Village for Vets and their Safe Parking LA program
September 8 volunteer info meeting with Peace 4 Kids
St. Joseph Center - a small project for 6-13 people cleaning shelves and a congregation-wide effort to collect non-perishable foods