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.
Money changers in the temple
Justice looks like a standing up for what is right, regardless of who it might offend.
In Mark 11:15-17, we learn of Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple. This event is about so much more than pigeons sold in the courtyard.
It is about Jesus seeing the injustice created in order that some would profit unfairly at the expense of others. It was a reaction to the plight of the faithful, who only wanted to fulfill the law, and how the greed of others was stealing that from them.
Jesus could not let that stand. He could not know and do nothing. He had to call out their sin and stop them.
Justice looks like that. It looks like the courage to call out what is wrong and to work to make it stop, no matter the consequence.
The Pharisees and the woman
Justice looks like treating people with dignity, no matter who they are and what is in their past.
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In John 8:1-11, John tells us of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law bringing to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. Scripture says they did this to trap him. With the appearance of wanting justice, those leaders also were using this woman for their own agenda.
Jesus’s focus was on what was best for the woman. Unlike the others, Jesus would not use her, for that is the opposite of justice.
Jesus immediately looked down, so as not to look on the woman who may not have been totally clothed. When he spoke, it was to her accusers. Rather than judging her, he asked the men who brought her to look at their own lives. When there was no one left to stone her, then Jesus said, “Go, and sin no more.”
Is that justice? Should she have been punished?
For Jesus, justice began with empathy and love. Then he focused on setting things right, making clear the path so what should have happened could happen. Jesus knew what we do not know about this woman. In his justice, he released her to go and live the life she was meant to live.
The hungry crowd
Justice looks like compassion.
In Mark 6:34-44, Jesus had compassion on the crowd, because he saw they were like sheep without a shepherd and were hungry. His disciples seemed annoyed. They went with Jesus to eat and rest, but the crowd followed. Jesus’s compassion cost the disciples their rest and their meal.
The disciples thought Jesus would send the crowd away when they got hungry, but Jesus had another plan. He asked his disciples to feed them. This really must have irritated them. They even asked, “Are we supposed to go and buy bread and give it to them?”
How was that fair? They had not invited the crowds to join them.
Does Jesus’s compassion ever annoy us or inconvenience us? How many times have we thought, “Surely God does not want me to speak out—or feed, house, be there or share.”
Maybe we think: “It is not my responsibility. I did not cause this problem. It’s too big. There’s nothing I can do that will make a difference.”
That is the thing about Jesus’ justice. We often do not want to be a part of it. Jesus could have left the disciples with their own solutions—buying food or sending the crowd away hungry. But Jesus had another way and a lesson to teach.
Justice is about who God is
Being compassionate is not about resources or swooping in like a superhero. It is not about us at all. It’s not even about the other person. Being compassionate is about who God is.
Jesus wanted the crowd fed because of who he is. He wanted the disciples to learn whatever they have, when placed in God’s hands, is always more than enough.
We often think of justice as getting what is deserved. But Jesus’ justice is about getting better than we deserve. The gospel message is we are sinners, and through no goodness on our part, Jesus came and died so we could have eternal life. Better than we deserve, right?
His justice is that way, too. His justice says we speak up for those who cannot. We treat others—all others—with dignity and offer a way out. We show compassion, even when it is costly.
Justice looks like Jesus. The question is, “Do we look like Jesus?”
Patty Lane is the director of intercultural ministries for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Click here to read the full “Justice looks like…” series.