Jesus criticized the religious leaders of Israel publicly and harshly. He denounced them for nit-picking away at minor issues and forgetting the “weightier matters” of the law. What are those weightier matters? Justice, mercy, and faith.
God has a special concern with justice. He is Judge of all the cosmos. He is personally holy and he loves righteousness.
After years of being a spectator to politics, I have noticed something about people’s notions of justice. In broad terms, people tend to see justice in a way that reflects their political viewpoint.
I freely admit to being politically conservative. We like to think of justice as something that operates mainly on the level of the individual. In other words, we believe strongly in personal responsibility.
People are responsible to make wise choices, to live according to the law. If they insist on living outside the law, they are sinning, and they deserve their punishment. Hopefully they will learn their lesson, ‘straighten up’ and ‘fly right.’
On the other hand, I have noticed that my liberal or progressive friends see justice from another perspective. They like to add the word “social” in front of justice. Social justice has a more collective focus.
The institutions and governments in our culture have a responsibility to treat people fairly, justly. When the powerful elites use these systems to oppress certain groups, it is sinful.
When the power structures of a society are unjust, then people have a responsibility to stand up and demand change. Unjust systems can and must be reformed to reflect God’s goodness.
Admittedly, these issues can be far more complex than the simple summary above. What about the separation of church and state? To what degree should God’s justice be reflected in a society’s laws?
Setting aside the related questions, my point is simple. In the Bible God clearly shows concern for both personal and social responsibility. As followers of Jesus, we must not ignore either half of God’s concern for justice.
Working to promote both individual and social justice would be enough to keep us busy, but Jesus adds in mercy. Mercy is a cousin to grace. Mercy and grace demand that people not get the justice they deserve, but instead receive the blessing they have not and cannot earn.
This is more than an empty academic philosophical dialogue. It is real life. For instance, how does a church decide who should get a baby shower?
If a young lady is pregnant out of wedlock shouldn’t we demonstrate grace, reach out to her, build a bridge into her life and the life of her child for the gospel?
But what message will that send to the young ladies who made better choices and waited until they were married to have children? Are we condoning sin and encouraging disobedience?
This is just the beginning. What about parents who learn that their children are gay or lesbian? What about the man who forced his girlfriend to have an abortion years ago? You get the idea.
These are not ‘lite’ concerns. These are the weighty matters that God has called us to address as his representatives in this age. How do we navigate the seemingly opposite poles of justice and mercy?
The third item in Jesus’ list is faith, faith in Christ Jesus. Christ is our one sure model of how to live according to God’s justice and mercy. By trusting in him as the Lord of our lives, we find insight, inspiration, and empowering to speak the truth in love.
Jesus held out one hand and grabbed hold of God’s justice and holiness. Then he held out the other hand and took hold of God grace and mercy. There at the cross on Calvary justice and mercy came together not in a formula or ideology but in a man, the Son of Man, the Son of God, in Christ Jesus.
Only as we follow the Crucified One, can we live successfully at the crossroads between God’s justice and his mercy. That’s why Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. With his power and presence we can indeed succeed at the weighty things.
May we always act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,
Brother Richard Foster