I have been thinking a lot lately about justice, what it means to Jesus, and what part I play in it. Its funny to think that, up until this summer, I thought that when the bible referred to justice, it meant making criminals pay for their crimes. When Jesus was preaching on the mount, he said "God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied." I thought that he was referring to people who really hate sin, and the coming day when Jesus will come back and judge those who hadn't prayed the prayer of salvation. Now, to come to read and learn that the justice Jesus speaks of is the justice for people that are held down and taken advantage of is an eye-opener. Its weird how I brought my own impressions of Jesus into the text and found a way for the words to fit my meaning. My mental imagery of justice was the scene in the last 'Left Behind' book where Jesus starts blowing people's heads off with his words as they scream in agony. That was justice to me. It made me feel good because there were people who had made the decision not to follow Jesus, and even worse, they said things that were blatantly AGAINST Jesus. And it was these people who would get their dose of Jesus' justice when He came back and went Delta Force on everyone.
So now justice is starting to look new to me, and its still forming itself in my mind. The scene that I am setting involves the three characters in the play; the oppressed, the oppressor, and me. How does Jesus' brand of justice play itself out on the stage of my mind? When I run through scenarios that I've been taught in my past, the characters don't end up looking like they are supposed to. For instance, the issue of poverty in the US. Who is playing each part? Who is the oppressed? That's easy; the person in poverty is the oppressed. The oppressor can be anything from government, to housing arrangements, to education, to employers, to culture. So, I must look at where I have interjected myself into this situation in the past. In the past, and still to this day, I find myself pointing the finger at the oppressed themselves as the culprit. That can't be right, can it? My response to poverty has been to accuse the impoverished of laziness, or assaulted their allegiance to certain type of clothing or music or language. I could also make a very convincing case as to why they were oppressed for a reason, and how their oppression could end if they would only do X, Y or Z. And, of course, the XYZ prescription for the healing of their poorness were things that I have done in my life to get me to where I am. "I went to college, I'm doing great. If they would just stop listening to that filthy _____ music and got a job they wouldn't be so poor. I did it, why can't they!" So my answer for their pain and oppression is to put an additional load atop what they already have. The oppressor, whoever or whatever it is, is never even identified, and I continue with my previous life, feeling much the better because of the confirmation that I have received about where I am in life. The burden has not been shifted at all.
Its not supposed to be this way, though. The story I read in the Gospels doesn't have the same ending and the attitudes and focus of the part played by 'me' is nothing like that. In my life, the part played by me is Jesus. I don't think that anyone would argue that Jesus has called us to be the representation of him on the planet earth. So how does he insert himself into the justice drama? Is there a story in Jesus' life that I can model?
Not surprisingly, Jesus' life is the perfect example of how this should play out down here. His entire existence is the screenplay of the infiltration of justice into the world of human oppression. The oppressor can be many things, but they all come from one thing. Jesus said that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. The great divide. The chasm between man and his creator. The ultimate oppression. Scripture alludes to the hold that sin has over humans, and how powerful that hold is. Sin is the oppressor and humanity is the oppressed. So how does Jesus respond as he comes into this dynamic as the third party?
The answer can best be described by following the burden; following the pain, heartache and dehumanization. In the story above, the pain and heartache start with the oppressed, just as it is here. However, the response by me, who is the Jesus in that play, is to keep the oppression right where it is. I believe that is because if we are to truly bring Jesus' brand of justice into the fold, we have to do what he did; take the pain, heartache and dehumanization onto ourselves. And that's really, really hard. The other response of judgement and finger-pointing is the common human response. And it can even be justified by reason and logic. But as we know, the kingdom that Jesus came to establish has nothing to do with reason or logic. He chose to take the burden of our oppression and take it completely on himself. Now I don't need to go into an atonement discussion, but you get the meaning. Jesus had every right and justification to point the finger of righteousness at us and say "get off your butt and get to work". But his revolution of love doesn't work that way. Thank god it doesn't work that way.
So what is justice starting to look like to me? Its starting to look like me, acting on Jesus' behalf, diving into the oppressor/oppressed standoff and changing the course of human history by taking the oppressed's pain upon myself. Its even more Jesus-like if I do this when the oppressed don't deserve my efforts. But there is also an interesting result to this action when it comes to the oppressor, and this, I believe, ties in to Jesus' ridiculous call to love our enemies. If I enter the oppressor/oppressed tension and choose to be a burden taker; if I invite the oppressed to hand his load over to me, I also must do this for the oppressor. And since the oppressor is the one with the power, I don't have anything to take from him other than future pain that would have been destined for the oppressed. And Jesus tells us that this is how we will bring heaven to earth. In stark contrast, my natural response to the oppressor is to get fired up and to try to destroy him. After all, the oppressor is evil, and Jesus definitely wants me to stand up to evil and defeat it, right? Not so fast. Once again Jesus starts talking silly and calls us to ""turn the other cheek" and to "pray for our enemies". This falls nicely into the above category of 'not reasonable and logical'. I had a short conversation last week with a friend about politics and world events. I brought up the fact that I had read a few articles suggesting that Israel was possibly getting ready to bomb Iran. His response was something to the effect of "Oh, I hope that they do, and I hope they bomb them off the map." I have been in this situation before and I have been the one calling for the death of millions of people in what I believed was a righteous act of acting on behalf of the oppressed.
Time and time again, Jesus insinuates that if we are to be part of his 'anti-world' and 'pro-kingdom' movement we are to follow his lead and take up our cross, even to the point of our own persecution and death. He never says that we must destroy or take vengeance. And somehow, Jesus says that our sacrifice and love for the oppressed will be honored and exalted in heaven. He says that when we take on these tribulations it will produce perseverance, character and hope, and that we should actually take joy in these trials instead of doing everything we can to avoid them. These ideas go against everything my heart desires, and that is why I know it is the right path.