Lay Devotion with Kim Wu
Somehow the word justice has become a controversial word among Christians, as debate rages over whether social justice is part of the gospel.
To understand what role justice should have in the practice of our faith, perhaps we should first look at what Biblical justice really means. Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, describes the Biblical concept of justice using two Hebrew words that appear frequently in the Bible – mishpat and tzadeqah.
Mishpat means treating people equitably and giving people their rights. In the Bible, this term is used often in the cause and care of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor. Tzadeqah is primarily about being in a right relationship with God, but the resulting righteous life refers to a life of right relationships in family and society, where people are treated with fairness and generosity. We see this in Matthew 6:1-2, where giving to the needy is referred to as “acts of righteousness.”
Keller asserts that when these two words - mishpat and tzadeqah - are tied together, as they are dozens of times in the Bible, the word we would use today in translation would be “social justice.”
This Biblical definition of social justice is part of what it means to love others and therefore is tied to the Great Commandment to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Great Commandment and the Great Commission, which bids us to spread the message of God’s salvation, are inextricably linked parts of the whole gospel. It’s evangelism and justice. Not evangelism or justice. And it is the gospel of grace offered to us by Christ that creates in us a passion for justice.
As we continue our journey through the season of Easter, which begins the eve of Easter Sunday and ends on Pentecost, and celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we would do well to remember that before Jesus walked to the cross, He spent much of His time among the poor and marginalized in society, confronting corruption and hypocrisy, and healing the sick.
Before Jesus walked to the cross, he walked to Samaria. In John 4, Jesus is leaving Judea and going back to Galilee. Verse 4 says, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” We know it was not geography that forced Jesus to walk this path; Jews traveling the area would always go around Samaria because there was great animosity between the Jewish people and the Samaritans.
Jesus had to go through Samaria because this was part of His mission. In Samaria Jesus had an encounter with a Samaritan woman, a woman marginalized within a society that itself was marginalized by the Jews. Jesus was teaching us how broadly we need to define our neighbor, and what it looks like to pattern ourselves after Micah 6:8, and act justly and love mercy.