Let Justice Roll Down |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES
For its 2018 Word of the Year, Mirriam-Webster selected “justice,” the choice of the iconic dictionary driven in part by the number of times the word was googled during the year. Without question, the concept of justice was on the radar of many Americans in 2018, with many of them unsure as to what justice really is or looks like. The befuddlement of Americans regarding the meaning of justice was partially triggered by court decisions they were sure amounted to a miscarriage of justice and charges of obstruction of justice that were leveled against the president of the United States.
Those who believe in the God of the Judeo-Christian ethic are seldom at a loss concerning the concept of justice. Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament will show that justice is rooted in the very nature of God (Deut. 32:4) and that God requires His people to practice justice (Isa. 1:17; Isa. 58:5-10; Amos 5:21-24; Prov. 21:3). To practice justice is to reflect God’s nature, and to act unjustly is to incur the disfavor of God. Unfortunately, as in Isaiah’s day, justice is woefully lacking in contemporary society (Isa. 59:14), a reality that offends Jesus, who said “Woe to you, teachers of the law, and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23).
For Jesus, justice meant confronting the principalities and powers that sought to dehumanize and disenfranchise God’s people. Jesus hobnobbed with the rejects of society, and sought the company of the powerless and marginalized (Luke 15:1-2; John 4:1-30; Mark 10:13-16). He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a chariot, and was crucified as a common criminal on a cross, all because of His deep abhorrence of injustice (John 12:12-15; 19:17-24). His death was a miscarriage of justice.
Whether it’s economic justice, criminal justice, environmental justice, racial justice, or social justice, Christians are challenged to do justly (Micah 6:8). Pursuing justice is a personal and social responsibility. It means that we seek to rectify the inequities in society, viewing our attempts as a mandate and not an option that we may embrace or shun. Yet, because pursuing justice inevitably leads to conflict with the powers that be, many do not stand in the gap and speak truth to power. Courage and commitment are two critical characteristics of those who are serious about standing in solidarity with the oppressed.
The pursuit of justice was high on the agenda of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we commemorate this month. Dr. King had much to say about the injustices that polluted the culture of his day and made a mockery of society’s quest to inaugurate a new day of diversity and inclusion. King challenged us to speak up for the voiceless and to stand up for those crippled and shackled by structures that seek to deny people their God-given rights. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King stated.
As we commemorate and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us acknowledge that now, more than ever, justice is painfully in short supply in our society. More importantly, let us engage in acts that promote and demonstrate justice. Verbally condemning injustice will not suffice. Remember that, as Dr. King believed, the real measure of a person is not where he or she stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands in times of challenge and controversy.
“Let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24, RSV).
R. Clifford Jones