What is Justice? and When?

Amos and the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is an odd pairing. And yet, odd pairings are able to complement one another and offer profound insight.

Amos is a ‘minor prophet’, which is a description of its shorter length compared to ‘major prophets’. Unfortunately, the ‘minor prophets’ are too often under-appreciated in my opinion but I am bias for Micah and Amos are ‘minor prophets’ and my personal favorites for their down-to-earth, blunt honesty.

Amos’ down-to-earth, blunt honesty is displayed through this proclamation that:

  • God despises our celebratory festivals;
  • God does not delight in our solemn assemblies;
  • God will not accept grain or burnt offerings;
  • God will not accept animal sacrifices; and
  • God does not want to hear music or voices lifted in songs of praise.

If God despises, will not accept, and does not desire our festivals and gatherings, our offerings and sacrifices, and our rituals and worship, then what does God demand from us.

In the words of Micah:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and
to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8, NRSV).

Amos words it:

But let justice roll down like waters, and
righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5: 24, NRSV)

But, what is righteousness and justice?

The Hebrew concept of righteousness emphasizes being in ‘right relationship’ with God and ‘neighbor’.

We will fail.
We will be in broken relationship with God.
We will be in broken relationships with our human siblings.

And yet, we have the opportunities for repentance, reconciliation, and
healing with God and our human siblings alike.

Justice, even the biblical perspective, can be more challenging to define.

  • The ‘major prophets’, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah,
    tend to paint an image of ‘justice’ as divine punishment
    for our rebellion against God and the Torah (or teaching).
  • Meanwhile, the ‘minor prophets’ tend to emphasis ‘justice’
    as our benevolent actions toward the most vulnerable in need, equity, and equality. Amos, Micah, and the ‘minor prophets’ frequency proclaim that our festivals, gatherings, offerings, sacrifices, and
    (You might say that said gatherings, rituals, and worship are simply the icing on the cake).

This justice is manifested in a multitude of means.

  • Justice is our benevolent actions to ensure all persons
    have access to resources and needs are met.
    God provides the entire creation and its creatures, including humans,
    an abundance to meet all needs. Unfortunately, we are sinful critters.
    We hoard said abundance in fear and greed, rather than sharing it.
    (One simple example is toilet paper during the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • Justice is when all persons experience equity,
    or fair practices that are a means to equality.
    Equity has been hindered by systems that have benefited the privileged at the disadvantage, expense, and harm of vulnerable persons and communities often based on race, ethnicity, and nationality;
    biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; age and health; and
  • Justice is equality. Equality is not only hindered by systematic injustice,
    but also the prejudice of persons. This personal prejudice includes
    the before said vulnerable persons and communities,
    but can further expand to political affiliations,
    religious adherence or lack thereof, and far beyond
    reaching into every aspect of our lives.

Justice as equity and equality is firmly rooted in the Scriptures emphasizing God’s grace extended to all nations, all peoples, and all languages, as well as the Holy Spirit poured out upon men, women, and children.

This perspective of justice, biblical justice, causes Garth Brooks’
“We Shall be Free” to echo in my mind, heart, and soul.
Simply listen to these lyrics:

This ain’t coming from no prophet, just an ordinary man.
When I close my eyes, I see the way this world shall be
When we walk hand in hand.
When the last child cries for a crust of bread,
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there’s shelter over the poorest head,
We shall be free.

When the last thing we notice is the color of skin,
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within;
When the skies and oceans are clean again,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free.
Stand straight, walk proud, ’cause we shall be free.

When we’re free to love anyone we choose,
When this world’s big enough for all different views,
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free.
Have a little faith, hold out, ’cause we shall be free.

And when money talks for the very last time,
And nobody walks a step behind;
When there is only one race and that’s mankind,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free,
Stand straight, walk proud,
Have a little faith, hold out; We shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free,
Stand straight, stand straight,
Have a little faith, walk proud,
’cause we shall be free.

If that is justice, when will equity and equality free us?
When is the time for ‘right relationships’ and justice?

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. and Beyond.

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids emphasizes the urgency for ‘right relationships’ and justice.

The bridesmaids do not know when the bridegroom will arrive to escort them into the wedding celebration, similarly we do not know when Christ will return to usher in the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom to Come. However, we do know that the Kingdom to Come is here now, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled, but we are called to strive for the Kingdom to Come here and now. We are called to seize glimpses of the Kingdom to Come and expand these through our baptismal commitments:

  • To proclaim Christ in word and deed;
  • To seek justice;
  • To act with compassion and mercy; and
  • To love and serve all people, especially the most vulnerable among us. 

The bridesmaids were divided into two categories:
the ‘foolish’ and the ‘wise’.

The five ‘foolish’ bridesmaids were ill-prepared for the evening, for they did not bring extra oil for their lamps. Thus, when these bridesmaids heard the bridegroom was approaching, they were unable to light their lamps and were forced to seek an open shop from which to purchase the oil. The consequence for their lack of preparation was missing the wedding celebration.

The five ‘wise’ bridesmaids were prepared for the evening, for they did bring extra oil for their lamps. Thus, when these bridesmaids heard the bridegroom was approaching, they were able to light their lamps. The consequence for their preparations was attending the wedding celebration, or the Kingdom fulfilled.

Similar to these bridesmaids, we are divided. In fact, we are in a time, a nation of significant divisiveness that hinders our ‘right relationships’ with God and our human siblings, as well as seeking and doing justice. And yet, we always are foolishly confident that our own perspectives and actions are the appropriate preparations for the Kingdom to Come. Thus, we presume ourselves to be the ‘wise’ bridesmaids. Why?

Honestly, none of us want to be ‘foolish’.

  • How often are we given the chance to right our relationship with God
    and human siblings, but do not?
  • How often are we given the ability to seek and to do justice, but do not? 

It is far more often than we are willing to admit to ourselves, our human siblings, and God. 

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids reminds us that we do not know when Christ will return to usher us as individuals, communities, humankind, and all of creation into the Kingdom fulfilled. Meanwhile, we do know that God has for centuries, is currently, and will continue to demand ‘right relationships’ and justice.

We have, are, and will continue to be called to seize opportunities to expand upon glimpses of the Kingdom to Come yesterday, today, tomorrow, and beyond. Therefore, we are called to be the ‘wise’ bridesmaids prepared and ready to light our lamps and shine Christ forth into the world.

And yet, we often seat on our comfy couches and in our lazy chairs thinking
“not today, but one day I will restore ‘right relationships’ and will seek and
do justice, but it will have to wait until I have more time, energy, or resources, and thus more convenient for me”?

We are called into ‘right relationship’ and
the challenging work of justice NOW!

We are called to love and serve all persons, especially the vulnerable, NOW!

Are we prepared, ready to shine the Christ light in word and deed,
in ‘right relationships’ and justice?

Or are we too tired, perhaps too lazy, to shine said Christ light in our lives,
communities, and beyond? 

In the title of another Garth Brooks’ song,
“What if Tomorrow Never Comes”.

May we be prepared.
May we be ready.

May we repent, reconcile, and heal
our relationships with God and our human siblings alike.

May we seize opportunities to seek and do justice in compassion,
mercy, love, service, and advocacy.

The scriptures were Amos 5: 18-24 and Matthew 25: 1-13.
Originally preached for 11-08-2020 and Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

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