on justice, part 3: fidelity, neighborliness and shalom

61/366 - woke up to snow.  what is going on with this winter?


I could have spent the whole day listening to  Walter Brueggemann.  He's charming in a grandfatherly sort of way, intensely passionate and intelligent,  and has a storehouse of knowledge that staggers. 

Brueggemann spoke out of Hosea, focusing on the marriage allegory between Hosea/Gomer and God/Israel. 

In the time of Hosea (800 years before Christ), the word Ba'al was used to identify not only a bad religion, but encompassed for the Israelites a way of life that included:  bad politics and bad economics.   The wealthy of Hosea's time were using their political clout to oppress the rest of society.  One way they did this was with greedy economics, taking whatever they could from their neighbor, including cheap labor, where the society was working for the benefit of the wealthiest people. 

(Although I don't have the notes, Brueggemann went to some effort to describe how God's shalom, or the Kingdom, is not just a spiritual justifying, but a political, social and economic equity as well.)

In Hosea 2, we see God making a vow to Israel that directly opposes the idea of Ba'al.  It is a promise to bring shalom to the community. (Shalom means peace, health, fruitfulness...a huge idea he's written much on.)

God's vow includes 5 concepts:  steadfast love, righteousness, justice, mercy and compassion

All of these are rough synonyms of each other that mean: FIDELITY.   It is a vow to live out these concepts at great cost.

  • steadfast love = a tenacious love (more than the softer word "lovingkindness")
  • righteousness = commited to the shalom of the community
  • justice = committment to creating equity for the most vulnerable (agreed with Ken Wytsma's definition of the night before)
  • mercy = complete self-giving to the other
  • compassion = the Hebrew word means "womb-like mother-love", refers to a stirring of the guts in passionate concern

Jesus is a walking embodiment of this kind of fidelity.   The coming rule of God is about neighborliness, about justice and equity for the neighbor.  When John asked if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus sent the message that the lame are walking, the blind are seeing, the poor have the gospel preached to them -  everywhere Jesus goes, justice is done and we see fidelity in action and shalom arriving.

We often see Jesus spending time with people who have been abandoned by the power structures.  These are His natural companions.  Jesus is so committed to justice and equity for the neighbor (the poor and outcast in particular) that He sets on a collision course with the powers of His day.  In part, He was executed by the establishment who couldn't stand welcoming the vulnerable back into the political-economic system.

We see Jesus often moved by compassion, the passionate stirring of His guts in response to the injustice He sees.  The staying power of justice requires this stirring.

Brueggemann makes a side observation that when he watches TV he finds advertisements for all kinds of things that have the effect of numbing us to need (everything from beer to makeup to deodorants, etc.)  People who are numb become compliant consumers and they are not stirred by compassion.

God empties Himself for the world and we are to do the same.

Another look at righteousness:

Righteousness asks "where are you going to put your body in the world?"  The righteous person in Psalm 112 is "unflappable" (I took this to mean secure and confident in the Lord), practices justice and is generous to the poor.  This person has put his body in service to the neighborhood.  There is a readiness to go where the need is. 

This will not be work that is neat, clean and respectable.  Those are middle-class luxuries the righteous person will not be able to afford.

~ A question was put to Brueggemann about which way is best to enact justice in the political and social realm.   The conservative way which wants to limit government and move the work to the private sector or the liberal way which seeks to harness the power of the government to work?

His response:

GO.  No system has the blessing of the gospel.  Use the government if you can.  Use whatever method works for you.    Use whatever method you can to mobilize justice for the neighbor.

All the arguing about liberal/conservative, etc. is just a smoke screen that keeps us from working for the Kingdom.  We need imagination and boldness.  Quit arguing and Go. Do. Justice.