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