Justice: Dignity, Security, Well-Being (and food)



In the Bible, "justice" is the word used for enacting ways of life (and systems of governance) that offer dignity, security, and well-being to those who lack the strength or resources to obtain those things for themselves.

The newsflash for us today is that people who fit that description are all around us.

I became a Christian when I was 17, a senior in high school. I started going to a church and reading the Bible. What I found in the Bible was passage after passage that highlighted God's concern for those without the strength and resources to provide for themselves, and how the people of God ought to be concerned for those people too. They are the ones who are usually referred to by the shorthand phrase "widows and orphans."

So, for example, James 1:27 teaches, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (NIV).

The youth ministry calendar featured a bunch of events and trips in the coming months, but there was nothing to do with the "least among us." I knew I had to do something, but I didn't know what I could do.

Then I remembered an episode of The Simpsons when Lisa volunteered to help at the local soup kitchen. I didn't know of any soup kitchens in my suburban town, so I pulled out the phone book and called the Goodwill store to ask if they knew of one where I could help. They put me in contact with a kitchen at a church in downtown Raleigh. I called them and secured a recurring spot on their Friday night crew.

The initial question I got from most people there was, "How many hours you got to do?" I didn't know what they meant at first, but soon it became clear: most people who volunteered there had to perform community service as part of their sentencing by a judge. But as I got to know these people and their stories, I learned that they're not all just too lazy to get a job (that's what I'd been told so many times).

They actually started out with hopes and dreams, just like you and me. Along the way, they fell down. They were picked on, pushed aside, put down, and passed over. And there they were: bruised and broken, standing in line waiting for hot soup on cold nights.

Some of those people were mentally ill. Some of them were handicapped. Some of them were addicted to drugs. Some of them were lazy. Whatever the case, all of them lacked strength and resources; all of them were in need of justice: the offer of dignity, security, and well-being.

"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
until he establishes justice on earth.
Even distant lands beyond the sea
will wait for his instruction" (Isaiah 42:1-4).

Ever since the time of Jesus, this passage has been interpreted christologically (as referring to the person and work of Jesus). Therefore, we who follow the way of Jesus interpret this passage as a kind of miniature job description. We are servants of God, seeking justice for our neighbors and the neighborhood.

Our voices aren't loud and our actions aren't violent; they are faithful and they are active.

We have the responsibility to open our eyes and open our hearts. When we do, we will see opportunities all around us to work for justice where before there was none.


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What Would You Do?
Church: In the Middle of It All

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