Last Sunday, together with Jesus, we heard the heavenly voice claim us as beloved children. The voice that powerfully called the cosmos into being now claims us as beloved — we have been chosen. To trust that we are beloved. This is where Jesus’ public ministry begins and it is where our relationship with the Divine becomes conscious — in “accepting that we are accepted”.
It is not easy to hear this voice because there are so many other voices disputing its truth. Voices that undermine our God-given worth and tempt us to fall into the trap of self-rejection. As Henri Nouwen says: “Of not feeling truly welcome in human existence.”
Nouwen also insightfully informs us that “to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected” and that this is difficult to grasp in a competitive and comparative world. “Our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosen-ness of others … it is impossible to compete for God’s love.”
To realise all have been chosen and that all are beloved of God must surely move us to love all whom God loves. A friend of God’s is a friend of ours. The purpose of the heavenly voice is to love us into loving. We can love those close at hand but to love those beyond our reach or beyond our shores or beyond our present times demands that we spread our love by seeking justice. As someone once said: “Justice is love distributed.”
In the Isaiah reading for last Sunday (42) we heard over and over again how God’s chosen servant is called to establish justice throughout the nations. To establish justice is God’s will and work for our lives. It is not the work of a few courageous people we sometimes call prophetic. It is the work of every follower of Jesus. No one is exempt! As we read in Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” [6:8].
When we talk about justice in the biblical sense we are not referring to the popular use of the word as in “punishing criminals”. We are referring to the social conditions of fairness and equity.
Julie Clawson has written a great book to assist us to understand some of what it means to “do justice” called Everyday Justice.
Clawson’s book begins with the words: “Don’t panic!” but that is exactly what I did. I felt instantly overwhelmed at the extent of injustice in the world and how dependent I am on injustice for the “normal” running of my day to day living. I don’t know about you but I often feel like I am going to drown under it all and it is not long before I feel paralysed by a feeling of inadequacy.
It is important to remember that injustice was created by human beings and therefore it can be undone by human beings.
One of the first things we need to do is develop a critical awareness of the issues of injustice in the world — and within our local area.
We should always see how we ourselves are complicit in establishing or perpetuating the injustice. This will help us to “walk humbly with God”. It will prevent us dividing the world into an “us and them”. When we start with ourselves we will also realise just how difficult it is to change our habits and behaviour and this should help us to be merciful towards those we may seek to persuade and pressure or even protest.
Further it is important for us to realise that all our decisions from what we eat, drink and wear have far reaching consequences. As Clawson says: “Our circle of influence is actually much larger than we think … every decision has a price tag.” We should therefore always ask: “Who is paying for this?” Are we paying, or exploited labourers or the Government through taxes or is the environment paying — which means future generations will ultimately pay.
Achieving justice is not a static act. Justice is a journey. When resources are in short supply or when perceived to be in short supply then the anxiety of getting “my fair share” and making sure others don’t take “more than their fair share” precipitates the need for doing justice. Who decides who gets what? Who decides who decides, etc.? All these questions are the continuous work of Justice.
Furthermore because there are multi-levels of decision-making — local, national and international to name three — all using different justice principles. Think for a moment about the conflict surrounding the allocation of fishing licenses. Those who did not receive a license say their jobs have been stolen. The ministry says that are trying to protect SA’s environment and natural resources to prevent the collapse of line fish stocks. Both have a “just point”. Doing justice is difficult work. But it is ultimately God’s work through us and therein lies the hope that God will faithfully bring it about.