The Spiritual Practice of Justice

UNPACKING THE BEATITUDE:

“Blessed are those who hunger 

and thirst for righteousness, 

for they will be filled.”

Jesus in Matthew 5:6, NIV

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for things to be as they should, to be made right again, for justice to prevail, for they will be filled. 

“The hungering and thirsting long for what is right, they crave justice, they cannot live without God’s victory prevailing; for them right relations in the world are not just a luxury or a mere hope but an absolute necessity if they are to live at all.” 

Frederick Dale Bruner, p169, The Christbook

Blessed are those who yearn for the things God yearns for, whose passion for justice syncs with God passion for justice, for they will find God in that place.

UNPACKING YOU:

The parable of the Good Samaritan is an indictment of the kind of faith that doesn’t make a difference in the world. If a person’s faith doesn’t result in good actions, then what good is it? Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). 

I think it’s safe to say that most of us fall short when it comes to working for justice in our world—for all kinds of reasons:

  • We’re busy. 
  • We don’t have the emotional bandwidth. 
  • We don’t know how to help. 
  • We’re disillusioned (what can one person do?). 
  • Or we simply don’t care. 

Whatever the reason, we fail to image God’s justice seeking heart as much we could. As we fall out of sync with God’s heart, we lose the opportunity to engage and know God in and through our acts of justice. 

So how do we change this pattern? It starts with an honest confession of what it is that keeps us from acting in just ways. For many, the precise reason may go unnamed or unseen. But God sees, and God wants you to see. 

To help you see what you may not be seeing try this spiritual reading exercise. 

Below is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Read it through three times.

  1. First, read it as you would any story, at a normal pace. 
  2. Second, read it slowly and imagine yourself being there, on that dusty Middle Eastern road, feeling the heat, watching those religious leaders walk by that poor man, seeing the Samaritan respond differently. Take note of what you’re feeling.
  3. Third, read it even more slowly, and when you come to a place in the story that strikes you, that you can’t seem to move on from, stop. Take the word, sentence, or mental image that’s caught your attention and hold it in your mind for a while—examine it, turn it over, ask God what it means, and what you need to know. Then ask the Spirit to show you the truth about what it would take for you to live a more just life. Write down what comes to mind.

BECOMING MORE JUST:

One way to grow your passion for justice is to practice giving God credit for any act of justice you witness in life. If God is the source of all just action, then we can thank him for every just act wherever we see it. When we credit God for justice in our world, we gain a better understanding of the scope of his ever-just presence, and we also begin to teach ourselves how to recognize and delineate the different ways God works to bring justice to his world. All of this can inspire and equip us to more deeply engage God though our personal acts of justice. 

When Vincent van Gogh painted the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he highlighted God’s presence via a judicious use of the colour yellow; which for him symbolized the presence of God (Kathleen Powers Erickson, At Eternity’s Gate).

 A picture containing grass, old, covered, colorful

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God was at work through the merciful act of the Samaritan man (cloaked in yellow!). God was present in the image bearing dignity of the man who was attacked. And God “wasn’t” there in the two faintly hued religious leaders who failed to act.

While we live in a far too faintly hued world, there is still a lot of yellow to be seen, celebrated, and painted. 

Imagine making that your spiritual practice—every time you witness an act of justice, painting the scene yellow. 

Interestingly, van Gogh also paints the field in behind the Samaritan yellow. Even as God carries the life of a poor beaten man, God carries all of creation. The soil holds the seed, and God sends rain to fall and causes the sun to shine on all things. God’s love and grace are ubiquitous in the parable that is creation.

Perhaps you can make this a spiritual practice as well—when you notice a way that God faithfully sustains the natural world, be reminded that this same God sustains and holds all people (including you). Let the fields prod you into taking up the world caring life God that made you for.

A SPIRITUAL READING EXERCISE:

“[God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The prophet Micah 6:8, NIV

God shows us what’s good by extending it to us. We are the recipients of God justice and mercy. Its hard to imagine the man who was robbed in Jesus’ parable—once he’d fully recovered—ever thoughtlessly walking by a person in need again. To be a person who acts justly is to be aware of the saving you’ve personally experienced—via God’s direct interventions in your life and via God’s saving work through others. 

Think back on your life. Who are the people who’ve saved you? Write down their names, and then write a sentence or two describing how they saved you. Try to recall what their faces looked like when they intervened. How did they make you feel? How do you feel about them now? 

Each of these people was made in the image of a justice seeking God—a God who saves. The beautiful thing they did for you is a pointer to the beautiful things God does for you (and everyone in need). God put them in your life.

“[God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The prophet Micah 6:8, NIV

Take this verse and personalize it—replacing the words “oh mortal” with your name—and read it again. Read it several times, and then consider memorizing it. 

A PRAYER:

Create a hunger and thirst for justice in me God. 

Help me see the needs of this world as you do. 

Give me the will to help. 

Ignite a passion to do the right thing. 

Show me how to get involved.

Empower the work of my hands

so that people will know that your love is real—

so that all of us can know you more.

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