What is Justice Anyway?
We often hear calls for justice in biblical texts. In this text to a people in exile from Isaiah, what is meant by justice? How might God’s justice be different from our usual understanding of justice?
Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9
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;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
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Additional Background Information
What is Justice Anyway?
The holidays have come and gone and we are all finding our way back to the normal rhythms of life. If you follow the Christian calendar, you know that we have just begun the season of Epiphany. It is the season in which we remember all the ways God’s light breaks into the darkness of this world.
In today’s text, the light of God’s justice is breaking through for those who have lived in a dark time. And it is a reminder to us that God’s justice continues to break through into our world. The question for us becomes how are we helping that justice to come through?
If I were teaching this session, I’d bring in example of injustice in my local community, my state, country, and the world. These could be current challenges facing us or they can be older challenges. You will have to decide what your group can handle. In each case, I would ask my group to talk for a few minutes about what the injustice is and why it is happening. I would really encourage them to identify who benefits in the situation. Then I would ask them to identify what God’s justice would look like in the situation based on what we have read in today’s passage. The challenge for the group will be to not let politics or personal feelings interfere with their discussion. You can simply encourage them to think creatively when discussing what justice looks like. A second challenge for the group will be that many may have differing ideas about what justice looks like. Encourage your group to have good discussion, and to be willing disagree about what justice looks like.
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Nikki’s Video Script
What is Justice Anyway?
I hope you have had time to recover some after the holiday season. Perhaps you’ve put your Christmas decorations away, made and begun New Year’s resolutions, and perhaps even broken a few of them already. If you have, no worries, just begin again tomorrow.
Today, we are beginning a little jaunt through some prophetic texts — the next three weeks we will be in the book of Isaiah and today we are looking at 42:1-9.
The book of Isaiah is a long prophetic book and it covers much more time in Israel’s history than any one person could have been around for — for that reason, most scholars believe that more than one person wrote this work of scripture, but that those who did write it likely studied under Isaiah or worked to imitate him after he passed. This was a very common practice.
Isaiah can be broken into three basic movements covering three basic time periods in Israel’s history. The first 33 chapters cover the time before Israel goes into exile in Babylon and the prophet is calling the people to repent. Verses 34-55 shows the prophet bringing comfort to the people while they are in exile in Babylon and the final chapters of the book bring a message of hope and warning as the people return to Israel from Exile.
In today’s text, the people are in exile in Babylon. It is so important that we take a minute to understand what an identity changing experience this was for the Israelites. When the Babylonians finally destroyed Jerusalem and essentially took over the people Israel, they lost everything that gave them identity as a people. They became forced refugees in an unknown land after loosing their place of worship, their land that had been promised to them, and the monarch they believed would never end. They lost all of of the things that mattered to them as a people and they were taken to a new land to live among new people and cultures and customs.
It is in this experience that the prophet speaks the words of today’s scripture text. The prophet tells of a God who is coming to bring justice for all the world and for all people.
I think that we struggle to understand what it means for God to bring justice. So often, we equate justice with the idea of someone getting the punishment that is owed to them. As in someone does something to us and then they have to pay in someway. This means justice is served in our context. This way of thinking about justice means that when we think of God bringing justice, we think of all the people who have wronged us and how God is going to make them pay. However, this is not exactly what is meant by God bringing justice to the world.
When God brings justice, there is a leveling out so that everyone has a fair shake. Certainly, those who have oppressed others will get their due and they will be brought down. Likewise, those who have had a hard time, those who started a little lower on the ladder than everyone else will be given the help they need to be on a level playing field. I think this is such a difficult thing for us to grasp because we live in societies that seem to depend on their being haves and have nots. We live in a world that requires there be some who are less than in order to show the rest of us who has it all together.
In God’s world, there is no one better than another, no one more righteous than another, no one more terrible than another. Rather, we are all alike in God’s eyes and God’s justice makes that clear.
Now those who are on top are going to feel like they are being punished in God’s world of justice. And those on the bottom are going to feel like they are getting a boost above where they deserve. But that is not what is happening at all. Rather, everything is being made as it should have been to begin with in God’s world of justice.
In today’s text in verse 4 we learn that this justice is not reserved for any one group of people, which may have felt frustrating to the Israelites who were in captivity in Babylon. But rather, God’s justice is for all on the earth — from the heartland to the coastlands, God’s justice will abound.
The challenge for us today is to learn to see others as God sees other. To be curious about what God’s justice looks like in our schools, in our churches, in our communities, in our country, and in our world. Then it is up to us to be like the prophet and bring a word to those who will listen of what we think God’s justice looks like in the spaces we inhabit and try to make it happen the best we can. How can you help usher in God’s reign of justice this week?