Monday, September 3, 2007
A FAITH THAT DOES JUSTICE
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies -- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.
(Isaiah 1:11-17; Romans 3:21-26 -- both RSV)
Many Christians are puzzled about the implications of the gospel of Christ for their society. Where the Old Testament speaks so clearly about social justice, and denounces oppression and alienation, the New Testament seems to be not so outspoken.
Yet increasingly, Christians are becoming active in social and political concerns, especially in democratic nations where they have the freedom to do so. This freedom is in stark contrast to the Christians in many countries under totalitarian or Marxist regimes who suffer not only personal hardship but also great restriction in living out the gospel. Out of this contrast comes a desire for many Christians in free countries to engage in authentic social action. But how to do
In Isaiah's time it is perfectly clear that God was not willing to accept the sacrifices of his people, or listen to their prayers, unless they brought their community life into line with God's laws of righteousness. They had to turn away from evil, create justice in the community, and support the weak.
Behind this of course is the assumption that God was in touch with his people, and that they were in a relationship with him. In fact, to know the Lord is to do justice and show compassion, because we automatically reflect his character in our behaviour. So the Lord says to Jeremiah: 'Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me' declares the Lord (Jeremiah 22:15-16).
To know the Lord Jesus is likewise to reflect his character in our world. For God the Father justifies the person who has faith in Jesus, and this demonstrates his own character of justice and righteousness. The New Testament compulsion to social action and social justice is no less than the Old Testament obligation.
The Old Testament reveals a God who has a passion for justice, while Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail. For the Christian, a passion for justice cannot therefore be dismissed as 'the politics of envy' if it is seeking to establish what is right, fair and good.
Brian Wren, Education for Justice
Old Testament justice topples over on behalf of those in direct need. This justice is not the same as fairness, as though everyone started from the same line. It is not portrayed by the blind-eyed goddess of justice. We owe that picture of justice to the Greeks. The blind goddess properly stands over the law courts. She does not look to see if the plaintiff or the defendant has the greatest needs; she is blind. She dispenses even-handed justice. She assumes that she is settling a dispute between equals. In the Bible the righteous God is not blind; his eyes are wide open. Because he is against sin, which distorts relationships between his children, he pushes away the oppressor and is active on behalf of those in special need. He sees the need of widows, orphans, foreigners, the oppressed and he acts for them.
David Sheppard, Bias to the Poor
The Christian pursuit of justice will be action rooted in solidarity with all persons, especially the poor. It will be action conformed to the demands of mutuality and reciprocal interdependence expressed in the norms of social justice. It will be action which acknowledges the claim of every unique individual to those material and social goods necessary for the satisfaction of basic human needs: food, clothing, housing, health care, social security, decent working conditions, etc.
David Hollenbach SJ, The Faith that does Justice
In the life, death' and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the world experienced a new redemptive action by God. It was a free act of God, an act of grace offered to all, the perfect sacrifice to overcome sin. It is a new and perfect demonstration of the justice of God which triumphs over the powers of evil. We are invited to respond with faith in Christ as Lord and with just relationships with our neighbours.
Lord, we sit in the comfort of our homes where we have space, and warmth and peace, and often we don't want to know about the problems of others.
We put down the newspaper and turn off the television when we see uncomfortable facts we'd rather not know. Forgive us our lack of care and help us to understand the real problems of those who have no proper home of their own... or no family to belong to... or no friend to turn to.
Help us to move through understanding to action so that we shall continually look for ways by which we can help to bring about your kingdom on earth. Help us to use our time, our minds, our energies, our money, through work, through friendship and through community action, to help those in this nation and elsewhere who are without food or shelter or clothes and therefore without hope.
And as we go about caring may they find the God who is the source of all caring. Amen.
Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, that we may give ourselves to your service, and live this day in love to one another and to you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
Australian Prayer Book
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 242-245