Tag Archives: biblical justice

“What should we do?” (Part 3 of 3)

what-should-we-doIf we have power, we must use it to help the powerless.

While John was preaching hot and heavy about what authentic repentance looks like, three groups of people approached him with the same operative question, “What should we do?” Okay, Messiah’s coming and God will judge the unrepentant. His ax is ready for swinging, so what do we do to escape its cut? John tailored his responses to each group a little differently.

He told the hyper-religious group to share their food and clothing with the poor and he commanded the tax-collecting shysters to stop robbing their neighbors. The last baptismal candidates were soldiers. To them the prophet said:

“Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

These mercenary soldiers likely operated as the tax collectors’ muscle in their shakedowns of helpless fellow citizens. The Greek term that John used for “extort” means “to rob with violence.” They were so discontent with their take home pay that they resorted to leg-breaking for the IRS of the day. The preacher told them to live within their means with their state-issued paycheck and refrain from manipulating the powerless for extra cash.

I warn you not to dismiss John’s word just because you’re not in the Army or an enforcer for the mob! Like the soldiers, most of us have some power of some sort over someone, and how we steward that power says more about us than our possession of the power itself. How we use our power is reflective of have truly repentant we are. Continue reading

“What should we do?” (Part 2 of 3)

what-should-we-doWe’re talking about how John the Baptizer sized up the legitimacy of one’s repentance. Hip deep in the river he preached, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” When three different groups of people came for baptism John gave each of them a litmus test to assess whether or not they’re ready for Messiah’s kingship.

First, he commanded the religious experts to share their food and clothing with the poor. Next, as a bunch of tax collectors came for a spiritual dunking from the camel-skin-donning, bug-eating prophet, they asked, “What shall we do?” John answered these candidates, “Don’t collect (taxes) any more than you are required to!”

This was big since these were people who worked for the occupying Roman oppressors collecting taxes from their own people. Worse than that, these shyster employees of an evil state typically extorted additional cash for their own use! They had their own neighbors by the throat. If they refused to pay, they would have to answer to Big Brother Rome. As much as the Jews hated Romans, they detested their sell out brothers more.

John’s message to us is…

If we have leverage, we are required to use it for the advantage of those who lack it.

Continue reading

What does Jesus Want From Me? (Part 2 of 2)

zacchaeusThe Rich Young Ruler walked away unhappy that Jesus wasn’t offering eternal life on his terms. Jesus told him what he had to give up to follow him and he wasn’t up for it. He preferred his demon-imbued idol named Mammon to following the Son of God.

Now let’s contrast that incident with the story of another rich guy and whose interaction with Jesus ended quite differently. Since Luke recorded these two scenarios in back to back chapters (Luke 18 & 19) it doesn’t seem an overreach to assume that he intended us to see a contrast between them.

Zacchaeus, was a very different kind of rich guy. As a collaborator with an occupying colonial power, his Mammon came from extorting extra taxes from his own countrymen. In fact, as a “chief tax collector” he oversaw other shakedown artists like himself from whom he took a cut, which made him even richer and even more contemptible to his fellow Jews. Continue reading

My favorite book on “justice” so far (other than the Bible, of course)

justice 3I’m ashamed to admit that I came to the table late on the social justice topic. As an aspect of God’s compassionate personality and as a significant portion of our responsibility as his followers, somehow over the years this ubiquitous Bible theme eluded me. I’ve since discovered that with the possible exception of idolatry, the Bible addresses injustice with greater frequency than any other sin.

Though “justice” is mentioned 134 times in the Bible, in my three decades of pastoral ministry I never gave one message on the concept of justice for the poor and powerless. In fact, until just a few years ago, I’d never even heard a message on it. (That’s not coming to the table late – as in during the dessert. That’s arriving after the table has been cleared and the dishes washed and put away!) Nevertheless, to coin a phrase, “Better late than never.” Continue reading

On being neighborly (Who do I have to love and how much?) Part 2 of 5ish

love your neighbor“There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.” Martin Luther King Jr at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, July 4, 1965.

Neighborly: Characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, kind, obliging, helpful, hospitable, civil, generous…

In Part 1 I mentioned that the “Love your neighbors” command appears throughout the Bible’s pages and I proposed that the neighbors we’re supposed to love are not just those in our same zip code.

Here’s where we jump into some of those neighborliness passages. For my money, the best way to understand any theme in Scripture is to look at as many of the passages as we can where it is found and study each one along with their contexts. From Moses to Jesus to Paul to James God’s demand to “Love your neighbor” is convictingly clear. Jesus called it the second greatest command and his half-brother James referred to it as “the royal law of Scripture.” Let’s unpack some of these a bit. Continue reading

The Missional, Merciful, Worshipful Christian (Part 3 of 4)

[If you haven’t seen Parts 1 & 2 I hope you’ll take a quick look at them for context. These posts are a cursory glance at Luke 10 and three key components to a balanced walk with Jesus. I introduced it in Part 1 and talked about being “missional” in Part 2. Based on the Good Samaritan Parable in this post I talk a bit about being “merciful.” Hope it’s meaningful.]

I’m embarrassed to admit that while as a pastor I had taught the Good Samaritan Parable  on several occasions over the years, I had very little understanding about how to apply it in my top dog social status as a white middle class American male who’s never faced a day of injustice in my privileged life. I simply had a blind spot in my view of one of the things that is quite important to the Lord – there was a hole in my holiness (probably tons of them). I’ve learned that, like the Pharisees, I should never underestimate my power to be wrong about God and what he wants. Continue reading