This past Sunday, we covered another "Woe" of Jesus. In this "woe," he tells the Pharisees and scribes of the law that they by focusing on their precision of the law have neglected the weightier matters of the law - "justice, mercy, and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:23). Jesus essentially summarized Micah 6:8 which says to "act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." What does it mean then to "act justly" or to "do justice?"
This is a word that is loaded in our culture today. What I observe from the media is that justice almost takes on a vengeance type of idea today. What about biblically? What did justice look like in the Bible?
There are actually two words in the Hebrew Bible that are translated "justice." One is the word "mishpat." It is used over 200 times in the Old Testament. It's basic meaning is to treat people equally, giving them their due - whether that be punishment, protection, or care. Over and over again this particular word is used in conjunction with four particular groups - Levites (priests who had no inheritance), foreigners living in the land, widows, and orphans. A couple of examples -
"Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hands of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow . . ." (Jeremiah 22:3).
"This is what the Lord Almighty said: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or fatherless, the foreigner or the poor." (Zechariah 7:9-10)
"Learn to do right; seek justice! Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:17)
Even the tithe had a justice element to it - "At the end of every 3 years bring the tithe . . . so that the Levites and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied." (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).
In pre-modern, agrarian societies these four groups had no social power. The mishpat of society then is evaluated, according to the scriptures, by how these groups are treated. Jesus seems to stay in line with that definition as he continually helped these groups in his day (those possessed by demons, lepers, the woman bleeding for 12 years, the blind and lame).
God's Himself is concerned with the most vulnerable and their justice. In Psalm 68 God is called "a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows."
The other word that is sometimes translated as justice, but more often as righteous is "tzadeq." This refers to right relationships. We are not righteous before God, but God sends Jesus that we may become the righteousness of God. This righteousness then extends to human relationships. This is how we treat people in day to day living. So when we are seeking the righteousness/justice of God we are seeking to treat people in a way that is fair, generous, and reflects the character of God.
My prayer for our church is that as we understand how God has treated us justly through Christ Jesus, we would treat the people we come in contact with, whether deemed important or unimportant by society, with the justice of God.
I love you all and hope you had a great spring break and we will see you Sunday!