Justice. The word ‘justice’ occurs 115 times in rsv OT, usually for mišpāṭ, ‘judgment’, the rule that should guide *judges. In the av, however, it represents mišpāṭ only once (Jb. 36:17); elsewhere it translates ṣeḏeq or ṣeḏāqâ The more frequent rendering of these latter nouns is ‘righteousness’; but when mišpāṭ and ṣeḏāqâ appear together av translates the whole phrase as ‘judgment and justice’ (e.g. 2 Sa. 8:15; cf. Gn. 18:19), though rsv renders the same combination as ‘justice and righteousness’. In av, therefore, ‘justice’ must be understood as being the same word as *‘righteousness’, and seldom as denoting the specialized concept of ‘fair play’, or legal equity, with which the term justice is presently associated. The expression, ‘to do (someone) justice’, occurs twice, being taken from the corresponding Heb. verbal root ṣāḏaq, causative, which means ‘to declare one right’ (2 Sa. 15:4; Ps. 82:3). Similarly, the adjective ṣaddîq, ‘righteous’, is over 40 times …
Blessed are those who seek ‘righteousness’ – to do right by others
‘ Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’(Matt.5.6)
Many of us interpret Jesus blessing upon those ‘who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, as a particular benediction for those of us who zealously seek ‘personal piousness’. However, the word that we translate as ‘righteousness’, which Jesus uses in this blessing, indicates he is commending those who fervently seek ‘social justice’ in this world, rather than ‘personal piousness’ that is not of this world.
The fact that Jesus’ bestowed his blessing upon those ‘who hunger and thirst for justice’ should come as no great surprise to those of us who know the scripture, as the ‘pursuit of justice’ is a core theme in the Bible, and the words used for ‘justice’ recur over 1000 times in the Old and the New Testaments.
For Jesus, the ‘pursuit of justice’ involved five different tasks: confronting injustice in society; delivering the poor from exploitation by the rich; liberating the powerless from oppression by the powerful; . freeing people from cycles of violence and counter violence which are a constant threat to vulnerable populations; and creating just communities which are intentionally committed to including outcasts. 1
Many people say Jesus said a lot about love, but very little about political, economic and social justice. But Jesus constantly confronted the injustice in his society. In the synoptic Gospels – not counting the parallel passages – there is a clear and unmistakable record of Jesus specifically and repeatedly confronting both Roman and Jewish authorities with the injustices they perpetrated in Israel – 40 times!
Jesus followed on from John the Baptist in denouncing the exploitation of the poor by the rich. John told the armed forces: “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” And he told the tax collectors: “Don’t collect any more than you are required to”. He said: “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”(Luke 3.11-14) Jesus confronted Zacchaeus. an infamous tax collector, personally about his extortion. As a result of this encounter, Zacchaeus promised Jesus to give “half of my possessions to the poor”, and “if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19.8)
Jesus not only consistently denounced the oppression of the powerless by the powerful, he also actively advocated liberation of disempowered groups of people through the empowerment of the Spirit. Jesus attacked the key religious leaders of the day, as “lovers of money”(Luke16.14-15),who would maintain a façade of sanctity, by saying long prayers in public, but would “devour widows’ houses”. When he saw a widow “put everything – all she had to live on” – into the collection box, Jesus condemned the temple for extorting the last coin from the kind of person it was set up to protect. (Mark.12.38-44) Jesus broke the monopoly on forgiveness that the temple had developed through the sacrificial system it controlled, by baptizing people in the Spirit and giving them the authority to forgive sins. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said; and “if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” (John 20.22-23).
Jesus advocated communities with leadership that would serve the people rather than oppress them. He said to his disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Matt.20.25-28)
Jesus demonstrated the practice of active, radical, sacrificial nonviolence, that would free people from the cycles of violence and counter violence which are a constant threat to vulnerable groups of people.
He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ( John 10.8-18) Jesus turned to his friends and said: “ Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15.13)Jesus created communities that were committed to doing justice to the marginalized and disadvantaged. The dominant value of Jewish society was “purity” – but the dominant value of Jesus was “inclusivity”. While the Jews despised Gentiles, Jesus declared “my house shall be called a house… for all nations.”
(Mark 11.17) While the Pharisees ostracized “sinners”, Jesus invited “outcasts” to his parties. (Mark 2.16) Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, (sisters) or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you”, Jesus said, “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14.12-14)
The world is cursed by the fact that there are so many of us who witness injustice but do nothing about it. Jesus says that: those who bless others – by seeking to do justice to them – will be blessed themselves