And Justice for All
What is justice, anyway? How do we understand it? Does God's justice differ from our own?
After a brief hiatus from posting, I offer this to you. My sermon from Sunday, giving my take on the parable of the nagging widow and the unjust judge.
...And Justice for All...
Rev. Leanne Masters
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church
October 20, 2013
I was turning 16 the summer that a certain ex-football star led police and the media on a low speed chase through Los Angeles after being accused of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend.
As we, as a nation, watched that white Ford Bronco roll down the highway an impossibly slow speeds, we helped to spark a new era...
Before that incident, if something were to happen...if there were an incident, a crime, a trial, we would hear about it on the evening news or read about it in the morning paper. If it was really important, there would be an emergency broadcast or a “breaking news bulletin” break-in of the regularly scheduled programming.
But with this, our willingness to stay glued to the television, and now our computer screen, for hours at a time “just in case something happens” was shown...and thus began the era of the prevalence and the dominance of the 24/7 news cycle.
We can tune in at any time to watch any variety of news shows...which I have many opinions about how it is changing our perceptions of the world around us and our understanding and our processing of information...which I’ll mostly leave to another time.
One of the realities of attempting to have news showing, that is interesting enough to keep the viewers attention and keep them coming back or from going to the competitor, is that the network is always having to come up with something to talk about. And, as we learned in 1994, the most interesting thing that we can talk about on the news that will get and keep people’s attention is crime.
Now, we can get into all sorts of discussions, sociological, political, whatever, about the factors that go into what makes a story national network newsworthy, and what doesn’t, but one of the things about this that is fascinating to me is how we get sucked in.
Suddenly, something that happened a thousand miles away is part of our daily intake of information. We are told all the information. We hear stories from the sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s dogwalker about their thoughts. We watch the trial, from start to finish.
And when it is all over, no matter what the verdict is that comes down, we begin lengthy, sometimes heated, debates on whether or not justice was served.
Every. Single. Time.
And, often, the debate over justice comes down to the question on whether or not we, as the general public, think that the person in question “got what was he deserved”.
So often, any more, when we think about justice, we think and talk about it in that way. Justice is the handing down of punishment and the settling of scores. Even in cases where we think that the accused is innocent, we view justice to then be the punishing of those that have falsely accused her.
Punishment. Retribution. Vengeance.
It is handled this way in our conversations and in our news and media consumption and all around us...and so it is hard for us to think about justice in any other way.
And, since this is how we view and understand justice, when we approach our text from the gospel of Luke, it is easy for us to read it in that light.
Jesus told this parable: There was a certain widow, who was constantly going to a judge who really didn’t care about her case, and she nagged him for justice against her opponent. In order to get her off of his back, he granted justice in this case....and her opponent was punished for what he had done to the widow. So if you pray enough to God about what they’ve done, God will make sure that they get what’s coming to them.
And when we do this, we turn God into some wild west vigilante that exacts, if we’re faithful enough and if we ask enough, punishment and retribution against those who have harmed us, in whatever way we feel that they have harmed us.
I think that it’s time that we start thinking about Justice, and how we understand it, especially God’s Justice, differently.
According to Luke, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he went to the synagogue in Nazareth, and read from the scroll of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to to blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. (1)
In other translations, Jesus declares that he has come to proclaim God’s Jubilee -
The Jubilee year was set in the book of Leviticus to be the year when all debts are forgiven, and all people start fresh, with a “clean slate,” per se. Originally purely economical in scope, this concept of the year of Jubilee it has since come to mean a period of time where we start over with that slate wiped clean, and we are refreshed and remade into what God would have us be...a period of time when God’s Justice is granted across the earth...not a justice where the wicked are punished, but a justice where what is wrong is made right.
Because God’s Justice is about making things right.
You know, I rag on the 24/7 news cycle quite a bit, but I buy into it myself, and I am one of those people that keeps it going through consuming it.
Each morning, when I first get up, I pour myself a cup of coffee, and I open up my computer to read the news on my favorite sites, local, national, and international. Some days, I scroll quickly through the news, clicking on a few articles that pique my interest, often human interest stories that warm the heart and put a smile on my face.
On most mornings, however, it takes more than just a cup of coffee to get through the news of the day. It takes a whole lot of prayer.
News of war, violence, crime, acts of depravity and indifference to life dominate the news cycle, day in and day out. And it would be easy to heave a deep sigh, close my computer, and just resign myself that this is the way that the world is and will be forevermore.
And so I pray.
I pray for justice. I pray for God’s Justice.
Because God’s Justice is about taking those wrong things in this world, and making them right again. It is about creating a world where there is no war, greed, violence, oppression, hunger. Where the abundance of food that we do have in the world is shared so that not a single person goes hungry. Where all of God’s children are treated with dignity and respect. Where there is no longer a need to worry especially about the most vulnerable in our society, because no one is vulnerable, because all are protected and cared for and nurtured and loved. Where slavery and oppression of all kinds is non-existent. A world without fear of each other. A world where God’s love reigns supreme.
And we are promised that it will happen, and it will come.
That is the moral of the parable of the widow and the judge. The widow did not see justice because she nagged...but because she never gave up hope that she would find it. And so she sought after it, day in and day out...looking for the justice that would make what was wrong right.
And it was granted to her.
And so we, too, are called to continuously seek after the Justice of God. To call upon God, crying out to him in pain and in the fears and in the worries of the world. To trust in the hope that we are given by and through Jesus that God will make this world right. And more than that, we are called, through that trust and that hope, to actively seek God’s Justice in the world, to do what we can to work to make what is wrong in this world right again...to work towards a world where we can preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed...a world where we can proclaim God’s Jubilee, Justice, Truth and Love.
(1) Luke 4:18-19, CEB