On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
In reply, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
-Luke 10: 24-37
The words of Jesus and the parable of the Good Samaritan are the perfect examples we need when thinking about the injustices of our time. To practice biblical justice amidst racial inequalities, gun violence, a changing climate, and global poverty, we must heed Jesus’ words and “go and do likewise”.
There is such a large focus on social justice and activism today, much of it resulting in positive change for the poor and oppressed around the globe. As Christians, it’s important to remember our roots for doing justice and to plant our intentions in our faith in Christ and the prophetic tradition found in the Bible.
To go forward, we must lean backward.
For us to go forward in our work of doing justice, we must lean backward to our roots in the scriptures. The book of the prophet Amos is probably one of the best places to start when exploring the theme of justice in the Bible. A book of sermons, poems, and visions for the people of Israel, Amos brings a prophetic message of biblical justice still relevant to the 21st-century Christian church today.
The book of Amos invites us to dream, imagine, conspire and act on how the Kingdom of God will break through death, despair, and the prevailing systems of injustice in our world.
By 800 B.C., the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had reached new political and military heights. Peace seemingly reigned and business was booming. It was a time of great prosperity, notable religious piety, and apparent security across the land.
Enter Amos, a native of the small Judean village of Tekoa. Amos lived the lowly life of a shepherd, an outsider living and working outside of the places of power. All of that changed when God instructed Amos to go to the places of wealth and privilege to speak out against the glaring injustices of his day.
Amos saw that prosperity was limited to the wealthy and that it fed on injustice and oppression of the poor; people like himself. Religious observance was insincere, and security more superficial than real. With passion and courage, Amos preached and called for justice as the foundation of Israel’s faith in Yahweh.
Throughout Amos, the author focuses on the connection between justice and righteousness, between both personal life and public life. The book of Amos challenges us to examine ourselves and our society and to confront injustice wherever we find it, including within ourselves.
We often want to do justice and partner with those who look, act, and behave like us. It’s much harder to do that for those who we consider ‘the other’. We often want to do justice publicly, but need to commit to justice personally; repenting of our sins of racial bias, financial greed, lust, apathy, and cynicism.
Later in the New Testament, we especially see this prophetic tradition play out in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:27-37). Jesus challenges an expert of the Torah who famously asks “who is my neighbour?”, to which Jesus tells the famous parable of a Samaritan who takes care of an attacked, dying man who was ignored by the religious elites of his day.
It’s fascinating to note that the very idea of a Samaritan being ‘good’ would have been scandalous to the first century Jews. Samaritans were the enemies of Israel; half-breed outcasts considered ritually impure. It would have almost been an oxymoron in Jesus’ day to say ‘Good Samaritan’ in the presence of devoted Jews.
When Jesus asks this expert of the Torah who the neighbour is in the parable, the man can’t even bring himself to say ‘the Samaritan’, rather saying “the one who had mercy on him.” Jesus then replies, “go and do likewise.”
Who would your ‘Samaritan’ be today? A politician? A troll on Twitter? A violent terrorist? A police officer? An anarchist? Someone with a different sexual orientation?
For to truly seek biblical justice in the tradition of the prophets and of Jesus himself, we need to be looking outward to the systems of injustice in our world, but also inward in how our own biases and prejudices impact who we see as the ‘other.’ To do this, we must constantly be rooting ourselves in the prophetic tradition of the scriptures, ultimately focusing on Christ, God incarnate.
Without a prophetic, Jesus-centred theology of justice, our justice efforts can fall apart into disconnected, well-meaning causes rather than being strung together into an inseparable whole. Indeed, the entire biblical narrative is centred around God partnering with his people in setting the world from wrongs to rights.
However, the people God chooses to do this with can rub us the wrong way. Again and again, God speaks through and uses people who are the least likely to wield power, often from the outside circles of power and privilege. Jesus himself didn’t resemble the violent, retributive messiah Israel was hoping for. Instead, he came as the non-violent, suffering servant who welcomed those on the margins of Jewish society.
Our basis for justice as Christians is found in the prophetic and revolutionary life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His ministry speaks to the fullness of biblical justice. That justice is not just a few good deeds, but a new way of being human that results in a life of personal and public justice.
An invitation to dig deeper at The Justice Conference Global
Want to dig deeper into the roots of biblical justice? On May 22nd, 2021, Tearfund is hosting the Justice Conference Global to help ground the global church in the work and theology of biblical justice. The Justice Conference was born from a desire to see the Christian church understand and embrace this inseparable whole and partner with God in seeking justice.
This year, the Justice Conference is a global event, taking place virtually in 11 countries around the globe featuring incredible speakers like Lisa Sharon Harper, Danielle Strickland, Katharine Hayhoe, and more.
As the world suffers from increasing polarization, division, and injustice, this event could not come at a better time. To keep doing the work of justice, we must be rooted in the Christ-centred, prophetic tradition of biblical justice.
Would you join us online in this journey of justice as we continue to learn how we can embody biblical justice so that we can “go and do likewise”?
Join us at the Justice Conference Global on May 22nd! Use the code REDLETTERS to get 20% off regular tickets at www.thejusticeconference.ca