Monday, January 07, 2008

What's Love err... Justice Got To Do With It

Justice, the word conjures up pictures of men sitting in dank cells behind iron bars, or perhaps images from the Nuremberg trials flash across eyes. Justice does not have a positive connotation in our vernacular. Like the character of Shylock in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" justice is equated to an idea of vengeance for unrighteousness. However, this is not the justice we see in the word of God. In
Deuteronomy 27:19 - "Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the
To further clarify this idea, a Biblical definition of justice is actually laid out in the prophets.
Zechariah 7:9-10 This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.
Isaiah 1:17 Seek justice,encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

While the carnal definition of justice is focused on punishment and reward, Biblically, Justice is mercy and compassion. We can return to Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" to see these two juxtaposed by Portia,

Portia - But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
(Merchant of Venice IV.i.189-199 - William Shakespeare)
So now to bring these three idea's of Biblical justice; equity, compassion, and mercy to Christ himself. This examination must begin in the Old Testament prophets, continuing on to the prenatal prophecies, and finally conclude with Christ own words about his sense of mission.

Notice how in Isaiah 9:6-7 the very physical incarnation of Christ is defined by justice and righteousness.
Isaiah 9:6-7
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, [a] Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

The lens of scripture relies only on the praxis of these two concepts to illuminate the identity of the Messiah. Later in Isaiah 42:1-7 the mission of Christ to bear justice through the action of compassion, mercy, and equity is affirmed as being directed to all governments and people's of earth.
Isaiah 42:1-7
"Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his law the islands will put their hope."
This is what God the LORD says—
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
"I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness."
This is important because of the intentional inclusion in the second verse of the non-violent nature of Biblical justice in contrast to carnal justice.

The activity of Biblical justice being wrought through the incarnation is demonstrated in Jeremiah's prophecy about the restoration of Israel in the time of Messiah. In Jeremiah 30 the promise of Christ is that he will return God's people to their right place.
Jeremiah 30:21-22
"Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me,
for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?'
declares the LORD.
'So you will be my people,
and I will be your God.' "
The prenatal New Testament prophecies of Luke, echo these same ideas of Biblical justice. Both "Mary's Song" and "Zechariah's Song" define the mission of incarnation in terms of restorative justice.
Luke 1: 46-55
And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."
Mary prophesies that the mercy of Christ will be demonstrated through abolition of carnal political power and just treatment of the poor and humble. Zechariah also promises his mercy to be a force of rescue to those in oppression in verse 74.

It is clear that both the prophetic scriptures, and prenatal prophecies were littered with justice as a central attribute of Messiah. So then it stands to reason that Christ's own mission would be anchored in Biblical justice. This is demonstrated by his reading from Isaiah 61.
Luke 4:16-21 "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
His mission statement as outlined to the listers in his home synagogue is solely defined by the concepts of equity, compassion, and mercy. Immanuel is justice. John 5:36-40 demonstrates that Christ uses his participation in justice as the proof he is Messiah.

So one is left at this point to answer the question of what justice has to do with the gospel. The justice of the cross was that the incarnation restored humanity to the image of God through equity, mercy and compassion. The justice of restoration to God has no resemblance to the justice of punishment and reward. Instead the fullness of the new heaven and new earth are seen in Christ ultimate mercy and compassion. Christ non-violence retards the myth of redemptive violence which was powerless to restore humanity to God.

Since therefore the prophecies about Christ, the mission of Christ, the practice of Christ, and the sacrifice of Christ were all centered in this Biblical concept of justice, the new creation must also be realigned to practice equity, compassion, and mercy as beacons for their mission. The second incarnation, the church, must be hallmarked as people of restorative practice. The church can not achieve the mission of the Kingdom so long as it is shackled to a notion of punishment and reward. Biblical justice frees the adopted sons and daughters of God to live out compassion and mercy in their sacred spaces and their marketplaces as imitators of the lifestyle of Christ.

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