Treasure Valley Prays

Anguish for Justice

children of the world
“You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit.”
(Exodus 23:2-3)

The verses above come from today’s reading from the Daily Lectionary (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 1149). Over time these daily readings allow us to revisit the depth and breadth of what is at the core of our Christian faith.

The reading—Exodus 23:1-9—is part of a section entitled “Justice for All.” Scholars tell us that this section is part of what is called the Book of the Covenant and perhaps had its beginnings in an early settled agricultural society where life itself depended upon communities of people living and working together for the good of all. In such a society “justice for all” would be a primary lifeblood of the community.

Of course, the next question is, “What is this justice of which we speak?”

The light bulb came on for me that, in certain way, what I learned about justice as these verses speak of it, I learned growing up in a farming community and thus is “in my bones.”

When I reflect on my youthful years there, I recognize how much everyone depended on each other to be ready to help one another and to treat each other with dignity and respect. Of course, that didn’t happen all the time and even at its best it was far from perfect. Yet, this kind of “justice”—perhaps outlined in the verses of this reading—was the very fabric of the community life almost everyone wanted to live by and be held accountable for by the whole community.

Mary Hess, Professor of Educational Leadership at Luther Seminary, has an excellent brief piece on “The Bible and Justice”. Please do take time to read it.

Mary describes three Hebrew words that capture more fully the word “justice” as we encounter it in the Bible: sedaqah, mishpat and shalom. She describes them separately and then puts them all together to summarize the biblical idea of justice.

“Perhaps one way to see these closely connected words is to notice that they form a tensive whole, one word (sedaqah) envisions the whole community in deep relationality and calls us to God’s vision for God’s good Creation, another one (mishpat) expresses the consequences God promises to bring to anyone and anything hurting that wholeness and the third (shalom) reminds us that the fruit of being in right relationship is deep peace.”

Mary Hess, Professor of Educational Leadership, Luther Seminary

Mary contrasts this way of understanding justice with what so much of our society today sees as justice.

“In far too many of our 21st century worlds, ‘justice’ is associated with ‘fairness.’ That is, it is heard as a thin and particularly self-centered version of ‘I get what is coming to me’ or worse yet, ‘you get what is coming to you as punishment for what you have done to me.’ ‘Justice’ in this use is a code word for revenge.”

As you may have noticed, I called this devotion “Anguish for Justice” because my sense is that many of you like me are in great anguish for what is happening around us. As democracy in our civil society seems to be unraveling, justice itself seems to be fraying. Rather than having more persons enjoy “freedom and justice for all,” fewer of us have it. Freedom from community does not represent either freedom or a life in which all people are treated with dignity and respect.

As we rediscover what it means for us as followers of Jesus to live in community in our churches following the pandemic, it is good for us to remember the words in this reading that reflect the biblical understanding of justice. The life we live with each other there is being ready to support one another and to treat each other, our neighbors, and the world with love, dignity, and respect. We do this because God has formed us in and continues to call us to this kind of community!

Mary Hess’ words say it well:

“It is important to place our focus where God has placed it — on the deep relationship into which God has drawn us. God’s justice is beyond what we can fathom, we can only lean into the depth and breadth of God’s love and allow it to draw us into a full-bodied recognition of God’s love for God’s people, for the wholeness of Creation and thus for our intimate relationship one with each other.”

Prayer..

O God of justice and love, you have created each and all of us in your image. Help us to see each other as human sisters and brothers and so seek your justice in the ways that build deeper and more lasting communities of love, dignity, and respect in our relationships and associations. Show us the way as Jesus taught us. Amen.

Keith Hammer

Keith Hammer

Retired ELCA pastor

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