god of justice
Isaiah 58.6-10; Matthew 25.31-40; James 2.14-16
You’ve probably heard them these critics of our faith in God who suggest that God has failed in the face of great poverty and injustice. They argue if God is a God of justice why Syria, or the Sudan, or Kim Jong Un for that matter? Has it ever occurred to any of us that the fault my not be with God, but with those of us who know what’s right but have failed to pursue it to our best efforts; whether we’re individuals, or local and national church communities, or even governments that claim to be moral and just. Have we been selective in our aid, or expedient in our lobbying, so that we mostly support those we think can do us some good, or are we prepared to act in complete disinterest in the consequences for us? (And in any case why should we, is that God really cares about?)
God of justice? Obviously Tim Hughes thinks we should, as do a lot of young song writers of our day, and even the writer of O Holy Night thought so; a read through of the lyrics of that beautiful Christmas carol reveals a genuine concern for social justice.
Tim is inspired by the words of Micah (6.6-8). Let’s see them now:
6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The song grabs a number of scriptural ideas, reminding us that Jesus salvation is a reaching out with especial concern for the weak and the poor, among whom we must be counted in a state before Jesus came for us. This is a salvation that has come to release us to serve others without any concern for who will serve us, and that since all that we have in Christ has been received freely, that’s the spirit in which we give to others. Freely we’ve received, now freely we will give.
The second verse is an interpretive quote from Micah 6.6-8, stressing that we are to act in a way that reflects the loving mercy of God as we seek to bring justice of the best sort for the poor and the poor in spirit. That when we serve we are directed by God, reliant upon his empowering for all aspects of the service to which he calls us.
The refrain then, talks about the work that is the privilege of the redeemed, the saved. Notice the strong emphasis upon going: We must go, live to feed the hungry, stand beside the broken, we must go stepping forward…we must go. While salvation is the first step, drawing us into the Kingdom, within the Kingdom we have a privileged task in the King’s name and power to bring relief for the poor and the weak, the sick and the oppressed, but all under the banner of the mercy demonstrated in Christ. We must go.
The Micah challenge The passage starts off with Micah typifying the manipulative, religious, even extremist, gestures that are wasted on the Lord who seeks relationship more than anything else. Grayling in his book What is Good? sees this as the typical moral motivation of most religious people – which is to completely miss the point – since the point from God’s perspective is relationship. It’s then in that relationship that God reveals his heart to those who take up that startling invitation. You will have noticed in Isaiah 58 that the Lord clarifies that he’s not into merely religious performance, but rather into that which reflects the Lord’s heart. And in the gospel Jesus judges “the goats” for missing a prime opportunity for relationship, even if “the sheep” didn’t realise that’s what they’d done.
At our point in history and in the story of salvation, we ought to know that the Lord’s heart is for the lot of the weak, the oppressed, the poor, the broken – he makes enough reference to the poor and concerns himself with their condition that it’s staring us in the face in such a way that only selective reading allows us to ignore.
So in that relationship that Lord produces a people, a movement, of compassionate, merciful interaction with the world of need that many recognise as justice. In fact as Micah declares we already know what God wants, what’s in his heart. The trouble is that for many it sounds too easy to be true, too simple, doesn’t seem, on the face of it, to demand enough public performance (for which we can gain communal approval, and by which we can tell who’s right and who’s off the track of God’s way.) But God wants it to be between us and him, where he leads, inspires, empowers and judges. Where does the love of God, shown in the deeds of the Cross, spread as the consequence of Pentecost, point us as a community of faith, where does it point you as a woman or man of faith. Are you wasting your time and God’s time on religious performance? Are you burning up a whole lot of creativity and energy on something that the Divine lover never asked for, never even hinted was important?
If our Lord is indeed a God of justice, in the peculiar sense of the grace we experience in Jesus, then that’s how we ought to expend our precious time, talent and treasure. Can you hear it? Can you see it? Have you known it all this time? Is faith for you more than a series of propositions?
Hear James 2.14-17
14-17 Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?