Justice is more than not participating in wrongs, more than compassion or empathy. Justice is also about righting the underlying wrongs that create the problem in the first place.
Jesus had one mission with two prongs. It was to restored well‐being for people who are spiritually poor and for people who are socially poor. Jesus lived right and made life right for others. In Jesus’ thinking, to love is to be just. To be just is to love. And when we claim to follow Jesus, we must champion justice.
Jesus’ mission on earth in his time is our mission on earth in our time. Living right and righting wrong includes at least four considerations:
I. INCLUDING THE EXCLUDED
Experiencing exclusion is hard. It is like being unfairly sent to the penalty box while playing hockey. You were on the ice, passing the puck and intercepting passes. Then, after what a biased referee claims to be an intentional foul, you are in the box and out of the game.
Tragically, in real life, many people never leave the bench and get into the game. Without ever breaking the rules or inflicting pain on anyone else, they are penalized. They are ineligible to play in the game of life. Including the excluded involves:
1. Compassion for social outsiders: Matthew 8:1‐3
Our world can be an unkind place. Then, it was lepers; now it’s handicaps, appearance, mistakes. People can be victims of injustice without being guilty of anything but being themselves. They are outsiders. They are simply excluded. And their exclusion is humiliating. But Jesus went further than simply having compassion for the outsiders. He embraced them.
Think back and identify a time when you were excluded―an occasion when you were an outsider. How did you feel? Write the words and let them awaken your emotions.
2. Standing against Gender Inequality: Luke 10:38‐42
In Jesus’ time, women were considered inferior to men. Unmarried women were not allowed to leave the homes of their father. Married women were confined to the homes of their husbands. Women were more like a possession than a person.
But, Jesus was a social revolutionary and a religious innovator. Jesus included women in his life when other people of influence excluded them.
II. CHALLENGING CULTURAL PRACTICES
Justice has many meanings. It can’t be reduced to a single definition.
There is legal justice: In democratic societies there is an assumption that “you get what you deserve.” Virtue is rewarded, evil is punished, and criminals are brought to justice. The justice system holds court, and penalties are meted out to fit the crime.
There is human‐rights justice: It links basic rights with being a human being, individuals are worthy to receive benefits from their society. Citizens thereby have rights to education, health care and opportunities for employment that make human dignity possible.
There is also divine justice: In the spiritual realm, divine justice is that we don’t get what we deserve. Instead of jail time, we get forgiveness. Rather than being guilty we are granted a pardon. Instead, we are invited to walk with Jesus who has showed us how to live and how to love. As people who are forgiven and loved, God enables us in making life right with/for others.
1. Rejecting Racism: John 4:1‐42
In Jesus’ day, racism was open and approved. Samaritans were the recipients of the prejudice and discrimination. They were the half‐breeds—a mongrel mix of ethnic impurity. This caused animosity between the Jews and Samaritans.
Jesus understood the stereotyping and the segregation. So did the Samaritan woman. Still, in one quiet move toward this woman, Jesus countered culture and broke the barriers of racial bigotry and gender discrimination.
2. Risking your reputation: Matthew 9:9‐13
We may not be surprised to see Jesus defend Samaritans and lobby for the dignity of those who are excluded from main‐street living. However, we might take a second look when we see Jesus spending time with prostitutes and drunkards. Having compassion for people who live in sin is one matter, but inviting them into your home? Have dinner with them?
Then again, Jesus’ actions are only surprising until we look at his approach to people. Jesus reached out repeatedly beyond the norms of social convention. His love for his neighbors extended to everyone. Even if it hurt His reputation. And He didn’t seem to mind when it did!
III. CONFRONTING THE POWERFUL
Now, let’s look at the human cost of injustice. We know that personal injustice is often the consequence of structural injustice and that every social issue has a human face.
WHEN: Eight‐year‐olds cannot read, families cannot drink water without getting sick, children go to bed hungry, women, young girls and boys are exploited as sex slaves, workers get scandalous wages to make designer sneakers, skin colour and social status block opportunity, the righteous and holy disregard the impoverished and unclean, the privileged disregard the weak…
THEN: Injustice rules, countless lives are wasted, our shared humanity is disgraced and darkness prevails.
So, we must be:
1. Challenging Unjust Behavior: Luke 19:1‐10
As followers of Jesus, our vision for a more just world depends on two “delivery systems”: social and spiritual.
Social order is a mark of a healthy society—and a healthy society commits to the well‐being of all its citizens. It includes rights and responsibilities that make social justice a possibility. Among their other responsibilities, politicians must ensure the right to education, health care and things like safe water. Political corruption is not tolerated. It’s about allowing diversity and protecting the vulnerable. When proper structures are in place, the system delivers justice.
When Jesus-followers get it right, they bring a distinct contribution to the table. Even though followers of Jesus do not have sole access to virtue or being principled people, they have an advantage: Jesus who demonstrated what human life can and should be.
2. Confronting the Spiritually Arrogant: Luke 6:1‐11
The ultimate expression of spiritual arrogance is self‐righteousness. The self‐righteous are the “good” people. They have only one point of view. They are more inclined to judge than to listen. And they are ready to impose their will and ways whether others agree with them or not.
Religion that majors on minors is oppressive. When faith is about legalism, it smells. According to Jesus, some matters [such as justice, mercy and faith] are more important than others. What can we put in place to keep us focused on spiritual priorities and resisting those who want to diminish others for not being the same as them?
IV. ADVOCATING FOR THE OPPRESSED
If you are born in many parts of the world you most likely will be poor. Though no fault of your own, this will lead to generational poverty. When people are forced to live without resources, they suffer. It crushes the human spirit.
Turning our backs on these factors victimize entire populations. Politicians needs to be challenged. Leaders must be held responsible for the well‐being of their people.
We must advocate for:
1. For the poor, hungry, sick and imprisoned: Luke 14:12‐14
Jesus was an advocate for spiritual and social well‐being. This was not an afterthought, but rather the heart of his ministry. Jesus called himself an “advocate” and also promised to send another one, the Holy Spirit. The good news for all of us is that Jesus continues to advocate on our behalf.
2. Releasing the Oppressed: Mark 1:21‐34
Love is life‐giving. To live is to love and to love is to live. It is God’s love and God’s love in us that advocates boldly for the vulnerable and the unlovable. Love refuses to muzzle the truth. Love includes the excluded. It inspires creativity, generosity and risk. Love seeks justice for all. Love goes far beyond self‐interest.
Jesus lived right. He was concerned about people’s spiritual well‐being. Jesus also righted wrongs. And He is our model.