Grace and Peace to you.
The Israelites gathered the manna, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.
The laborers were paid, each the usual daily wage, regardless of how long they had worked. To those who expected more the landowner said, “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
—from Matthew 20. 10-16
If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat.
—Romans 16. 20
We tend to think that “justice” means that people get what they deserve. It is some kind of equal payment for what people have done, good or bad, in the past. The “bad” are punished and the “good” are rewarded.
But God’s justice is something different. It means that people get what they need. The Good News is that although we all fail to fully embody the love in which we are created—“we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”—God does not measure that out on a scale and repay us for that, but offers us grace instead. God is not chained to the past, but frees us in the present moment to receive what we need to live deeply. God’s “repayment” is always a gift, not a wage. Notice how often the word “justice” in the Bible is part of the phrase “justice and mercy.”
God repeatedly demands that we “do justice.” God is telling us to stop trying to judge what people “deserve”—there is no such thing—but to provide for equal sharing so that everyone has what they need. Yes, Tea Partiers, this is a clear “redistribution of wealth.” Why in the world would anyone need more than an omer of manna? If you have more, it’s probably someone else’s. Justice means sharing. It usually entails forgiveness for the wrongdoer (though their victims may need restitution), empowerment of the oppressed, acceptance of the stranger and outlier, equal access to money and power for the poor. It also entails generosity for the wealthy, humility for the self-righteous, and limitation of the power of the mighty. Among people Jesus met what many needed was not a lecture but healing. The rich you man needed to sell everything and give to the poor. Mary needed to lay aside her labor and be quiet with Jesus. His executioners needed forgiveness.
Of course the capitalists will complain that equal sharing forces everybody to be the same, but they think that all that matters is what we have, not who we are. In real life, if everyone has what they need we can all live abundantly as God created us to.
Devote yourself to justice, to sharing so that everyone has what they need. Attend to the needs even of your enemies. This is what saves us from our selfishness and connects us to real, deep, eternal life. We do it not because we “ought” to, but because we need to.
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes