terça-feira, 22 de novembro de 2011
Jesus and Justice
Jesus and Justice
By Ronald W. Nikkel
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth.[i]
The birth of Jesus of Nazareth came as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies that God would send a Saviour to establish justice on earth. The prophets who foretold the birth of Jesus served as God’s appointed messengers in opposing the oppression of God’s people and at the same time confronting the collective unrighteousness (injustice) of those in positions of power and authority.[ii] From the midst of that oppression and injustice they pointed to the Messiah, who would be sent from God bringing freedom and justice to a suffering people; the Prince of Peace who would establish justice and righteousness forever.[iii]
Jesus however, did not live up to the expectations of the masses of people who longed to see him overthrow the yoke of Roman imperialism. Instead Jesus taught them to love their enemies and even go the second mile in responding to the abusive demands of their oppressors. Even the religious leaders didn’t understand Jesus, for he certainly did not meet their expectations of righteousness before God. On one occasion when they criticized him for not properly observing a religious ritual, Jesus responded to their hypocrisy by admonishing them not only to care about the letter of the law but to concern themselves with the core demands of their faith – justice and the love of God.[iv]
Jesus linked justice and righteousness. For to love God can in no way be separated from loving other people, even to the point of loving one’s enemies, and praying for one’s oppressors. In a world where justice is often reduced to fairness and “just desserts” Jesus injected a higher standard that went beyond justice measured by “an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth,” and beyond avenging injustice by force and retaliation.[v] To the very end when he was betrayed, abandoned, violently tortured and unjustly executed, Jesus exemplified the justice of God by refusing to stoop to hateful retribution. “Father, forgive them” he prayed,[vi] giving voice to the attitude and prayer he had taught his followers – “forgive us our offences as we forgive those who offend against us.”[vii]
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice,” said Jesus to his followers, “blessed are the merciful…blessed are the peacemakers …you are the salt of the world … the light of the world.[viii]
The justice of Jesus is not about condoning evil or absolving evil-doers of responsibility. Essentially the justice of Jesus is about human relationships in the face of injustice and evil – where love for God and for the other (the oppressor and the evil doer) does not fail or fall in the face of injustice but reaches beyond that injustice to reclaim, to reconcile, and to restore a right relationship. Jesus came to establish justice in the earth and bring justice to the nations, but his message is the hardest message in the world to understand, for it goes against our human nature.
Christian history is littered with atrocities and injustice perpetrated by people who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ but who neither understand nor live his message. The bloody crusades of the Middle Ages saw untold thousands of people slaughtered by Christian fighters during campaigns to liberate their “holy places” from control by the Turks and Muslims. In a tragically similar vein nearly six million Jewish people were killed as the result of state sponsored genocide that was tacitly condoned by a majority of German Christians who remained largely silent as Jews were systematically persecuted, deported, and exterminated by the Nazi regime during World War II.
The recent history of America and South Africa has also witnessed massive violence against people of colour in the name of Christianity – a trail of inhumanity and oppression perpetrated as the result of religiously justified racial segregation and apartheid. Still more recently, the genocide in Rwanda saw Hutus rising up against their Tutsi neighbours, and in the span of one hundred days nearly one million people were massacred. Horrific stories recount the complicity of Christian leaders who lured Tutsis to seek sanctuary in the church only to be trapped and killed. I’ve stood on the blood soaked grounds of a church that stands as a macabre memorial to the horror; a church where the skeletal remains of victims, some still clutching prayer books and Bibles, lie where they were bludgeoned to death.
It is perhaps easy for us to see the complicity of other Christians in such massive injustice. What is much harder for us to recognize is our personal complicity in the injustice of our day. For it is not just our lack of doing justice as Jesus taught, but our perpetration of its very opposite that is evidenced by our judgmentalism, anger, and hostility toward criminal offenders - our unwillingness to care for them, their victims, and their families. Why is the message of Jesus so very difficult? Why does revenge and retaliation and anger in the face of evil and injustice seem so much more satisfying than love, forgiveness, and compassion? What will it take for our attitudes and actions as followers of Jesus to tilt away from judgment and punishment toward a hunger and thirst for the justice that Jesus brought? It is a journey of love and grace in relationship with God and with our fellow human beings – every one of them.
You have heard that it was said,
“Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.
But I tell you,
love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (St. Matthew)
[i] Isaiah 42:1-4 (NRSV)
[ii] Obery M. Hendricks, “The Politics of Jesus” (Doubleday, New York, 2006 – page 28)
[iii] Isaiah 9:6,7
[iv] Luke 11:42
[v] Matthew 5:38-47
[vi] Luke 23:24
[vii] Matthew 6:9-13 (offences – as translated by George. M Lamsa from the Aramaic Peshitta Text. And variously translated in English as sins, debts, trespasses.)
[viii] Matthew 5:6 (dikaiosunen – Greek term that can be translated as either righteousness or justice – the two are interlinked in the sense of right relationships between a person and God and between persons)
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Ronald W. Nikkel, PFI President & CEO
Ron has served as PFI's president since 1982. Widely recognized as an expert on criminal justice issues, Ron has visited more than 1,000 prisons in every region of the world and met with church and political leaders, as well as criminal justice officials.
Ron's new devotional book Radical Love in a Broken World, featuring daily meditations, is now available on Amazon.com as is his previous book Your Journey with Jesus.
To Learn more about Prison Fellowship International, visit www.pfi.org
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