A Theology Of Justice

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Aug 26, 2009, 12:55:15 PM8/26/09
to Mennonite Poverty Forum
An excellent Theology of Justice by Bread for the World. You can
check out their website, here:

Or just read their statement of theology below

Biblical Basics on Justice

When we examine the scriptures, we find out how central justice is to
the life of the Christian. There is no concept in the Old Testament
with so central a significance for all relationships of human life as
that of justice. The people of the Old Testament were in relationship
with God because of the covenant that existed between God and Israel.

As a member of this covenant community, each person was in
relationship with every other person, including poor and needy people,
one's family, and even strangers and aliens. Out of these
relationships arose responsibilities and demands. The just person was
faithful to these responsibilities and demands.

God's Ownership, Our Stewardship

God created the world and all that is in it. Therefore God is the
owner of everything in creation. The earth is the Lord's and all that
is in it, the world, and those who live in it (Psalm 24:1 ). God
invites human beings to be good stewards of what belongs to God.
Stewardship is a way of managing our possessions. It means rather that
we care for what god has entrusted to us.

Let My People Go!

The justice of God is vividly portrayed in God's concern for the
Israelite people when they were in Egypt. In the hold of bondage and
slavery, they cried out to God, for help (Exodus 2:23-25). God called
Moses to deliver the Israelite people from slavery:

Then the Lord said: I have observed the misery of my people who are in
Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed,
I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the
Egyptians (Exodus 3:7-8).

The Exodus is the fundamental experience for the Jewish people. Every
year the community of Israel gathers to celebrate and relieve the
Exodus. They are to remember that their God frees them from oppression
and injustice. If they are to be faithful to God, they must free the
oppressed and do justice toward others.

Defender of the Oppressed

In the legal tradition of the Old Testament, we find the theme of
concern for the oppressed and poor of society: The resident aliens,
the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill
so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you
undertake (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)

Concern for the oppressed and the poor was at the core of the
Israelites' calling. This concern was rooted not only in the covenant,
but more importantly, in the very nature of God. God is the defender
of the oppressed, the One who liberates the captives, the One who
feeds hungry people:

(The Lord) executes justice for the oppressed; … gives food to the
hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of
the blind (Psalm 146:7-8).

Share Your Bread with the Hungry: The Message of the Prophets

Throughout Israel's history, the prophets reminded Israel to remain
faithful to the covenant. Their primary mission was to lead the people
back to the path of righteousness and justice. The prophets were sent
not only to speak God's word, but also to speak on behalf of those who
had no voice.

God complained through the prophets that the people had forgotten who
it was that gave them their land and provisions. They, who once were
hungry and oppressed, refused to feed the hungry and themselves became
the oppressors. The people of Israel spoke folly and left the craving
of the hungry unsatisfied (Isaiah 32:6, paraphrased).

Amos was one of the strongest in calling the people back to the way of
justice. Israel was at the height of her economic and political power
when God sent the poor shepherd Amos to call the people of Israel to

These people had often transgressed against the covenant. One
transgression was that they oppressed the poor and robbed them of
their grain (Amos 5:11a, TEV). The injustice that the rich engaged in
completely negated the value of their worship:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn
assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain
offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of
your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise
of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let
justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing
stream (Amos 5:21-24). When there is not justice, life is barren and
worship of God is a sham.

Shalom: The Vision of Peace

But where will justice lead us? What is the goal toward which the
prophets call the people of God? In doing justice, we come to know God
better: Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and
righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the
poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the
Lord (Jeremiah 22:15b-16).

In addition to knowing God better, doing justice leads to shalom,
peace: Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness
abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness abide in the
fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the
result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever (Isaiah

Where there is justice there is the possibility of peace. The opposite
is also true: where there is oppression and injustice there can be no

What is this shalom God is calling us to experience? It is certainly
more than the absence of war and violence. The basic meaning of shalom
is wholeness. It involves all the conditions of life that make for
wholeness and harmony. Shalom is the goal of God's work as deliverer
and liberator. God's purpose in the world is to restore shalom
wherever it has been broken. God's will for all is shalom, and the
task of the community of faith is to do God's will.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

When we turn to the New Testament, we find these same themes. John the
Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ's public ministry, exhorted
his hearers to change their lives. When the crowd asked him what to
do, John replied in clear and certain terms: Whoever has two coats
must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do
likewise (Luke 3:11).

The Work of Justice and Peace: Jesus' Ministry

Jesus characterized his own earthly ministry by service to the poor,
the outcasts, and the downtrodden. Early in his public ministry, Jesus
entered the synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah to describe his
ministry: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed
me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release
to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the
oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke

Luke presented us with Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry.
Jesus identified himself with the Servant of the Lord and saw himself
as part of the great prophetic tradition of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea
and Amos.

Jesus announced the coming of God's reign. But not only did he
announce its coming in the power of the Holy Spirit, he also embodied
God's reign. In his life, in what he said, and in his deeds, we see
what God's reign is all about. In his death and resurrection, God's
reign is inaugurated in a new and definitive way.

With Jesus, we have the fullness of shalom, of justice and peace.
Jesus is our path to justice and peace. In him, we know and have the
justice and peace of God. In Jesus, God's covenant has been renewed,
and we are called to be agent's of God's shalom in the world.

Paul reminds us that Jesus, though he was rich …. For your sakes …
became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich (2
Corinthians 8:9).

Christ Among Us

Jesus is the Poor One among us. He identified himself with poor and
hungry people and those who suffer and are in need of help. Christians
thus come face to face with a great mystery. God in Christ is present
in a special way in poor and hungry people (Matthew 25:31-46). Christ
represents himself to us in a special way in the hungry, the naked,
the sick and the prisoner. He is among us in the outcasts and the
oppressed of our age. Their cry for justice is Christ's cry for
justice. The very Christ who suffered and died on the cross that all
might be reconciled to God is crucified again and again in the
suffering and death of poor and hungry people.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the new Christian
community was care for those. Following the example of their Lord, the
early church found ways to care for poor and hungry people, the needy
in their midst.

The Bible does not offer us a ten-point program or a five-year plan of
action on how to combat injustice in our world. Rather, the scriptures
give us a vision of a new creation. They will hunger no more, and
thirst no more … and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes
(Revelations 7:16a-17b).
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