In the last several days, the tragic storms that have ripped across our country and left so many hurting, framed against the unfortunate, misguided (and nationally-publicized) doomsday prediction, have left me thinking quite a bit about the messages we are sending to our cultureconcerning what it means to follow Jesus. It has me considering the space between the way the worldoperates and the way it should be….It has me contemplating the idea of justice.
My college alma-mater has come under some ridiculous attacks from sects of our faith tradition recently for opening a center for social justice on campus. The program has successfully met the needs of many of TNU’s neighboring communities there in Nashville. A couple of months ago, I was told that a prominent television news host proclaimed that anyone attending a church that pursued the idea of “justice” should find a new place to worship.The hostwas convinced that the concept of justice was connected to a political agenda he deemed hostile to his viewers and their way of life. I think he later backedaway from his statement, but the damage was already done. There is a good deal of conversation, confusion, and disillusion around theconcept of working for justice and what it means for people of faith.
Indeed, justice has different uses in our culture; but to Christians, it should not be a primarily political concept. To make justice political is to fall far short of its true Gospel meaning. Justice is God’s world order.
Biblical justice is part of the requirement of following Jesus. I wrote about how we should pursue this idea in my upcoming book. This is an excerpt from a chapter titled “Free Trade Coffee & Jesus Tattoos” focusing on the Beatitude “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.”
Jesus’ statement ties justice directly to him with His words: “. . . for they will be filled.” The particular word for filled in the Gospel of Matthew is the Greek word chortazo, which means to be filled abundantly and to satisfy. There are many different Greek words for “filled” used in the New Testament, but this one is employed specifically in relation to Jesus. It is interesting that the writer of Matthew does not use chortazo when he is talking about being filled with the Holy Spirit or filling the jugs of water that were turned to wine. Matthew is continuing the metaphor of hunger and thirst in these lines and chortazo refers to the deepest primal needs of a human being. The other significance of the word is that it is a verb, in other words “filled” is something that is done to them. Matthew is making it clear that Jesus is the One who will satisfy those who pursue justice. We cannot lose sight of the truth that he is the only One that can complete that vision.
While the church is often wrought with the misguided pursuance of the Gospel as exclusively personal spirituality, popular culture is generally anxious to leave Jesus out of the equation. We cannot forget that there is indeed a problem with the world’s sense of justice. When we are tempted to leave Jesus out of it, we need to remember that His mission on earth was to begin a revolution of God’s world order. To bring a sense of justice that began with the transformative compassion of a God who moved into our neighborhood, a God who taught us our greatest responsibility, next to loving Him, was to love our neighbor. Not every compassionate move on earth is a direct result of following Jesus, but I do believe that every compassionate moment is a true reflection of God’s order. I love Gandhi’s quote, “Justice that love gives is surrender, justice that law gives is a punishment.” We see it in bits and pieces, but the truth is that we cannot achieve it unless we follow. Jesus is the only one who demands we die to ourselves, who holds up the reward of being loyal to him as crucifixion… As much as we want to have the compassion to be just, we cannot unless we are gazing into the eyes of the One who embodies compassion, to “be filled” by the hand of Jesus.
What does justice mean to you? What types of things can you do to pursue Biblical justice in your daily life…in your own neighborhood?