A common trap for pastors is to substitute sermon preparation for devotional reading. I fall into this trap often. The current sermon I’m working on is from Isaiah 42:1-9. This passage speaks of the one upon whom God will pour the Spirit and through whom God will bring justice for the nations. I’ve been studying this passage and I have had the word justice on my mind.
I must make a confession. Some people have complained that we have been talking too much about the poor and being generous to those who are different than us (think about the 5-week Loving Generously series we just finished, followed by a series from the prophets during Advent). These complaints trouble me and cloud my mind.
With these things in mind, this morning I decided to clear my head and do pure devotional reading. When I am not in a scheduled reading plan and desire a Word from God through scripture I will often turn to a trusted method. I take the number of the day of the month and read the Psalm or Proverb with that number. There are 150 Psalms, so you can start with the date’s number and then skip ahead by 30 and get five Psalms to read.
Today is December 10, so I opened to Psalm 10 and began to read. Go ahead read it, I’ll give you a moment. Yeah, the whole Psalm talks about how the rich and powerful are using their power to oppress the poor. The Psalmist calls out to God for justice. Really?!? I was trying to escape this topic.
I have learned to pay attention to these little “coincidences.” God is speaking. Here’s the reality about the Bible, the Gospel, and Justice. It is wrong when people who have power use that power to take advantage of those who don’t have power. That is the main sin against which the Bible speaks. And here is the heart of the Gospel. God always stands on the side of the oppressed, and justice is when the abusers and the abused come to peace and reconciliation through self-sacrificial love.
Notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say that justice is when the abusers get what’s coming to them and pay for their abuse. That’s what we want justice to be. That’s why we invent things like the Justice League of America and the Avengers. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy superhero stories. I’ve watched every episode of Smallville and am currently watching Arrow and The Flash. I’m as much a fanboy as anybody else. But, here’s the thing. Those characters are not the picture of true justice. They are just another form of violence and the abuse of power.
Here’s the part from Isaiah 42 that is really hitting home for me this week. Isaiah does not describe the coming Messiah as a great hero who will conquer the nations that are oppressing the Jews (and, trust me, the Jews were being severely oppressed in his time…and throughout time). Rather, the Messiah is so quiet that you can’t hear his voice in the street. He is so gentle that not even a bruised reed will break. He is so slow that not even a dimly burning candle will be put out when he walks by. Plus, the justice that the Messiah brings is not retribution or punishment for the oppressors, but a vision of a time when all nations will know peace. It will be a time when the prisoners will be set free and the light of God’s ways will fill the darkness and bring sight to the blind. It will be a time when people no longer see each other as objects to be used and abused for selfish desire, but a time when all people see each other as children of God, equally valuable to God and to all of society.
So, how can a savior bring justice like this? Do the Avengers need to trash the city in a prolonged fight scene? Does the Justice League need to reverse time and create a vortex to repel the evil? Nope. The mystery of the Gospel is that just the opposite is necessary. Jesus came to show us the way of justice. It is not through violence, or hatred, or loud protests. It is through faithfulness to God and self-sacrificing love.
The Gospel this week is Matthew 12:15-21. This is where Matthew connects Jesus to the person Isaiah was describing in Isaiah 42:1-9. Jesus had just defied the religious leaders by healing on the Sabbath. According to the religious standards of his day, Jesus was a lawbreaker and a sinner. He was being oppressed by the religious establishment. What did he do? Did he lash out in violent protest against them? Did he lead marches to speak against the evils of the establishment? No. He simply did what was right in spite of the oppression. He healed the sick. He loved the unlovable. He broke the social barriers and brought healing, love, and dignity to all people, defying the classifications imposed by those who desire power and control.
Jesus was faithful to God’s mission of justice for ALL, of God’s promise to Abraham to bless ALL nations. Now, here’s the irony. It got him killed. The most powerful human being to ever live–God come in the flesh–willingly gave up his power and let the oppressive power structures destroy him. And, while hanging from the cross he said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
The physical body of Jesus is no longer walking the earth. But, when Jesus breathed the Spirit onto the church, and instructed them to gather around his body and blood, he infused his presence into us. We are the body of Christ, and we are called to walk in the way of Jesus. I guess you could say that we are the Justice League. We are called to be faithful and to quietly, humbly, gently, love everybody, and trust that the love of God will eventually bring light to all nations. This, perhaps, is justice.