Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Justice and Order

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

"Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up," says the Lord; "I will place them in the safety for which they long." - Psalm 12:5

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? - Luke 18:7

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 65:9-13; Proverbs 8:1-9:6; 1 Corinthians 14:36-15:2

There's a tension in today's scriptures. The daily verses clearly focus on justice for anyone whose life is constrained or limited by others, and over and over, the Bible shows God rising up and taking action against oppressors for the sake of those who need safety and freedom. On the same day, we read Paul's instruction to the Corinthian church that "all things should be done decently and in order," apparently including verses from yesterday that "women should be silent in the churches." Paul's appeal here is to order, and there are also plenty of places in the Bible that show God desiring and approving of order that gives peace and stability.

I think there always has been, and always will be, tension between justice and order. Both have benefits for human life, and both are associated with God's own character. Order calls for limits and boundaries. Justice calls for life and freedom for all people. There are times when efforts for order go too far, setting limits that are unfairly administered or unduly burdensome to certain people. And there are times when calls for justice can go too far, unnecessarily creating chaos that might make life worse for everybody.

It's good to remember that both justice and order are abstract concepts, but what's really important is life and love and relationship among God and human beings and the world. God is less concerned with beliefs and labels and ideas and things, and more concerned with people and relationships. With this in mind, we can always prioritize the concepts of justice and order beneath loving God and loving neighbor. We can strive for both justice and order, for a system that builds up life and liberty for all people in a peaceful, stable way.

Others may disagree, but I also see in the New Testament's witness to Jesus a preference for justice over order. With few exceptions (for example, overturning the moneychangers' tables in the temple) Jesus didn't focus on disrupting order. But his harshest criticisms were for those whose calls for order put harsh burdens on the lives of others. And in showdowns between tradition and even law against human need (for example, healing someone on a sabbath day), Jesus overwhelmingly went to tend to the people who needed his help and power. I think we can also strive for a system where order has a strong place, but is always trumped by the stronger place of justice.

There's a phrase in the Mount Carmel Ministries prayer for today that I think is helpful. The full prayer goes like this:
Merciful God, I thank you for granting justice to those who cry to you day and night—including me. Forgive me when I think you will not answer. Rise up and place the needy in the safety for which they long. Show me how to wisely increase your justice and safety for someone in need today. Amen.
I like the call for God's wisdom to "increase justice and safety," and I like that it's God's justice and safety we pray for. There's no doubt that the church, and the world, are better off for the growing place of women at all levels of the church. Paul's call for order eventually led to a system that was oppressive and exclusive, stifling the voices and wisdom and gifts of far too many women. In a turn toward justice, the church has found orderly ways to make a start at treating women as equal partners in the life of the church. God is obviously working through the lives and ministries of women who are local leaders, pastors, deacons, and bishops.

I hope we can take notice, and take action, in all areas of life, when our attempts at order go too far, and when God's emphasis on love and relationship call us to focus on justice. May we work every day to increase the justice God desires with the safety order provides.

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