We know that these unseen who meet our needs
Are all themselves the fingers of your hand,
As are the grain, the rain, the air, the land,
And, slighting these, we slight the hand that feeds.
What if we glimpsed you daily in their toil
And found and thanked and served you through them all?
It’s not fair! Fairness. There is much research that shows that children have a very developed sense of justice and injustice – fairness. They will soon let you know if they think that an action or event is fair or not: keeping the whole class in for one child’s silliness, for example. Giving one child a larger piece of cake. They can sense when something is not right, is not fair, is unjust. And we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. Watching “Strictly” and thinking, but they were rubbish, the other ones should have gone out. Or the football when the ref calls a goal offside, when it was clearly not! We can see unfairness, injustice. In some things.
So why is there so much injustice in the world when it comes to the important things. When it comes to food – why are some people struggling to feed themselves and their families while others have more than enough. Why do some people insist on seeing others as inferior, as not as important, because they are, you know, a woman, or a different race, colour, ethnicity, sexuality? Why do some people consider the earth as there to be plundered, to be used without consideration for the creatures that depend on it? Why are humans so horrible to each other?
In the words of Robert Burns:
Many and sharp the numerous ills
Inwoven with our frame;
More pointed still, we make ourselves
Regret, remorse and shame;
And man, whose heaven-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man’s inhumanity to man,
Makes countless thousands mourn.
And why is this injustice, this inhumanity important?
I have been doing a lot of reading about Justice recently – after all I am preparing the Lent Course, which takes as its theme this year: Embracing Justice. And it can be difficult reading. There are some challenges ahead for those who are taking part. But the one thing that is constantly repeated in the course, and I must say is constantly repeated in many readings in our Lectionary, and therefore in the Bible, is God’s attitude to Justice, or more importantly, to injustice. According to one writer I’ve been reading, God has a “passion for justice” (W-B.p17). It is not just something nice to have, it is God’s passion. God sees those who are suffering injustice – as we see in our course book – and when God sees injustice, God is moved with compassion and acts, demanding justice. Demanding that the oppression, suffering pain of those who are oppressed or suffering is removed. There is no room for injustice in God’s world, in the Kingdom of God. As Wyk-Bos goes on to say: God’s laws “protect the vulnerable from abuse and hold responsible those who deliberately injure others.” (p.184). Just last week we heard from Isaiah how God says through the prophet:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
Jesus also emphasises the need for compassion not just through his words, but through his actions: he met with sinners, listened to and wept for those who were suffering or mourning, he spoke of the need to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, to have compassion and mercy to others. For God, for Jesus, justice is not a nice to have, but an imperative.
But God’s justice is not about vengeance, it’s not about getting your own back. It is about compassion. It is, as Breuggermann says, distributive, not retributive because God has “a burning love for those on the underside of society” (W-Bp31) which demands that all people be respected, be valued, be shown their worth. Because justice is all about recognising we are all equal in God’s eyes. That we are all God’s children, all made in God’s image – as the Genesis reading reminds us: “in the image of God he created them;” God did not create a hierarchy of peoples, rating humanity on what they looked like, what they owned, how powerful they were, whether they were male, female, Italian or Ghanaian. God created all people in God’s image, and as people made in God’s image we are called to “exhibit God’s holiness”, acting as God would act towards those children of God who suffer injustice. Our actions should be God’s actions – loving God’s people and challenging those things that undermine, oppress or demean those who are made in God’s image. We are to stand up for God’s creation and demand justice. If we claim to serve and love God, then we show this by respecting, serving and loving all God’s people (W-Bp189).
So, we are called to go out and serve the Lord, by doing justice to our fellow beings, and to creation, loving it as God loves us and demonstrating to the world that our God is one that loves all, in spite of the boundaries and barriers we try to erect. Our God demands love, compassion, fairness towards all, and demands that we act with love and compassion to the world. Then we will reflect God’s passion for justice through our actions for justice, fairness and love. To paraphrase lines from Guite’s poem at the beginning:
What if we glimpsed God daily in the lives of those around us,
And found and thanked and served God through them all?
Reverend Jackie Sellin
Matthew L Lamb (1985) Liberation Theology and Social Justice http://www.liberationtheology.org/library/LiberationTheologyandSocialJustice_religiononline2570.htm
Johann W H van Wyk-Bos (2005) Making Wise the Simple, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company