Voices: Images of justice in an emperor’s land

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EDITOR’S NOTE: “Justice looks like …” is a special series in the Voices column. Readers will have the opportunity to consider justice from numerous viewpoints. The series is based on each writer’s understanding of Scripture and relationship with Jesus Christ. Writers present their own views independent of any institution, unless otherwise noted in their bios.

You are encouraged to listen to each writer without prejudgment. Then, engage in conversation with others around you about what justice looks like to you.

Click here for more information about the series. Click here to read the full “Justice looks like…” series.

Four images come to mind when I think about what justice looks like.

One is the statute, Lady Justice.

Her blindfold, not part of her design until the 16th century, represents impartiality and objectivity, also depicted by a set of scales symbolizing the weight of a matter’s strengths and weaknesses. An unsheathed sword indicates transparent and swift enforcement.

Another is from the 1837 Danish short story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Two swindlers arrive at the capital city of a vain emperor, who spends lavishly on clothing at the state’s expense, primarily concerned about the people’s applause and showing off his new clothes.

Posing as weavers, they offer to supply him with magnificent clothes that are invisible to the stupid or incompetent. He proudly accepts, and with his courtiers, and the townspeople uncomfortably go along with the pretense, not wanting to appear foolish. But in the end they do.

The weavers mime dressing him in his new suit. He moves into a procession. A child blurts out that the emperor is naked, exposing him before everyone. The people then realize everyone has been fooled. Although startled about his nakedness, the emperor ever more proudly continues his procession.

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A third is depicted by those who live embracing Chris Marshall’s description in The Little Book of Biblical Justice:“At the broadest level, then, justice entails the exercise of legitimate power to ensure that benefits and penalties are distributed fairly and equitably in society, thus meeting the rights and enforcing the obligations of all parties.”

The last looks like Jesus with his followers today on a journey, recognizing they must do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.

Jesus’ followers in an emperor’s land

I see them in an emperor’s land, in which God has willed just systems, structures and institutions into existence for his purposes and the good and well-being of his creation so it will not devolve into chaos, given humanity’s fallen condition.

They arrive at various justice destination points, seeing justice is not about being nice or not, hateful or not.

They see the systems, structures and institutions as God’s prodigals, being out of control. Their moral values—embedded in them by the people who designed, established and worked in them—have lost their way. Their systems, structures and institutions are sinful, distorted, biased, corrupt, oppressive, discriminatory and exploitative, because sinful people administer and operate them.

When sin accumulates among the land’s people, their systems, structures and institutions become overwhelmed and possessed by such sin because of their interrelatedness. This sources systemic injustice and is our reality.

But in Christ, this has been disarmed and defeated (Colossians 2:15).

Seeing justice in practice

I then see Jesus and his followers traveling. They are on a mission recognizing—regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality or gender—they are preaching good news to the poor; healing the brokenhearted; proclaiming liberty to the captives, incarcerated, brutalized, improperly segregated and oppressed; and recovery of sight to the blind who are living among those and within out-of-control contexts.

I see them stopping for beggars like Bartimaeus—who need relief from food insecurity, food deserts, lending, payday loans and other oppressive systems—as Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32). For they recognize justice is not “just for us.”

They see misused, pained and mistreated people because of disparities of power, privilege, race, ethnicity, gender and money. They clearly see the emperor is naked as he exercises power, distributes benefits and penalties, and enforces rights and obligations.

They compassionately hear the cries, complaints and crises of people who are harassed, helpless and sick, and who need healthcare and allies.

They embrace South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu’s words, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

They act, protest and intervene—challenging policies and practices of the out-of-control systems—to remove and “loose the chains of injustice” (Isaiah 58:6).

Confronting the emperor

They confront the fragile emperor, who shows discomfort and defensiveness when confronted about injustice in the land displayed through his and others’ attitudes, actions, inaction and silence. They see the justice scales are not balanced. Justice’s eyes are not blinded.

Fear won’t keep them from speaking up when they know justice’s truth. They see injustice’s realities are uncovered, as the emperor and his helpers keep strutting.

I nevertheless see them with hope, striving to be justice-pursuers until they bring justice to victory (Matthew 12:20).

This is what justice looks like to me.

Rev. Joseph C. Parker Jr., Esq., who considers himself a pursuer of justice, is an attorney and senior pastor of the David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Austin. He has served David Chapel as a minister since 1982 and as senior pastor since 1992. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

Click here to read the full “Justice looks like…” series.

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