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5: Justice Songs

March 3, 2009

It is unfortunate that “justice” has been sometimes relegated to a merely political issue, instead of understood first and foremost as a theological issue. Obviously, any conversation about justice must take some sort of political shape. But in scripture, the starting point for justice is the character and activity of God. We may or may not agree with particular social policies around the concrete shape of justice. But “justice,” if we take scripture seriously, is never a side issue, but a primary concern of those who seek to do the will of God. God brought Hebrew slaves out of the injustices of Egypt, and thus expected them to embody an alternative way of life—a just way of life—in the covenant community.

Subsequently, one of the charter purposes of the calling of the prophets was not simply to do fortune-telling, but truth-telling. Namely, that the people who called upon the name of God were ignoring the demands of justice, turning aside the needy, rubbing the poor, consuming the wealth of widows. Or more pointedly, the prophet Amos would condemn the people for their indulgence in worship services, while ignoring the social plight of Israel – “I hate, I despise your festivals, your worship services, your praise songs—they make me sick,” Amos related on God’s behalf. Instead, “let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”

We find in Jesus’ pronouncements in the Sermon on the Mont, “seek first the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness.” But the word “righteousness” could just as well be translated “justice”—that we “seek first the Kingdom of God, and its justice.” That is, to pursue God’s Reign means to work and live and speak for God’s justice, a justice whose purpose is not punishment, but a healthy ordering of a community that is for the good of all, especially the weak and the poor and the powerless. When we hear “seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness,” we might think God’s first concern is piety. But if we understand that this word also denotes “justice,” we’ll be closer to its intent: Jesus is concerned that we order the affairs of our communities in a way that reflects the just character of God, a God who cares especially for those that are over-looked, cast-aside and thrown-about.

So tonight we listen for cries to which we need to pay attention—cries for help; voices silenced; weeping unheard; and cries for action and sharing and good deeds. That we learn better to pay attention; to listen to those whose experience may be different than ours; and then seek first God’s Kingdom, and its justice, in all that we do, write, say, sing, buy, sell, and produce.