Reflection on the Kingdom – Justice and Righteousness
But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a flowing stream. Amos 5, 24.
The world and its people are crying out for justice right now. The crying has been going on for a long time and it has taken a long time for anyone to listen. Only now, with the traumatic events of 2020 and the death of George Floyd has there been a response. We should all be aware by now of the structural racism that exists, not just in the USA but in this country as well. All of us need to learn how to listen and to understand what these cries are about and how to respond to them.
So what is this cry for justice for? Strictly speaking, justice is about applying the law that creates the structures that enable society to function. We are told that where there is a perceived injustice, we must go to the law for justice. But suppose that these structures and the law itself are unjust? What then happens for the call for justice? My mother was born at the end of the first world war, into a world that did not allow women to vote. The change of law was only achieved by a long campaign of civil disobedience. Unjust structures lead to anger, frustration and then to civil disobedience or worse. In such times the law does not provide justice, for as Amos knew, more than 700 years before Jesus was born, the law all too often benefits those with power and money. Amos also knew that this kind of justice is not God’s justice.
Throughout the bible we read that God’s concern is for all creation and especially for those who are weak or powerless. Over and over again God intervenes to protect the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. So God’s justice is not the same as human, law-based justice but flows out from God’s character which is righteousness. Righteousness is more than justice. it includes mercy and loving-kindness. God’s righteousness is seen in all that God is and does. It follows that if we are righteous it will show in what we do and what we say, in how we act and how we think. We are righteous when our behaviour is in line with God’s will.
Righteousness seeks truth so that injustice can be brought to light and justice be done. But as the prophets and Jesus himself knew, working for justice and righteousness is dangerous. The world responds first by trying to ignore what is being said. Next the world will try to discredit and suppress dissent. If that fails then the world will silence or kill the messenger as it has silenced so many prophets. We are at a crossroads now and we have a choice. We have prayed “Thy Kingdom Come”. We have been shown that our society contains systemic injustice towards people of colour. God is calling us now to search our hearts and open our eyes to recognise ways to challenge and change unjust structures, especially those which we may have inadvertently contributed to or allowed to continue.
Lord, open our eyes to see with your eyes
Open our ears to hear as you hear
Open our hearts to love as you love
And open our minds to recognise when
there is systemic injustice in our world.
Teach us how to work to bring in your kingdom
where all are equally valued as your children.