I have been caught by the need for justice in our world of late. I am on the e-mail list of Rabbis for Human Rights who are actively standing up for justice for all people who are getting a bad deal in Israel and Palestine.
I just recently took in the Canadian Friends of Sabeel Conference in Vancouver, an organization actively engaged in partnerships of solidarity that promote the perspectives and peace vision of the Palestinian Christian community (endorsed by Mennonite Central Committee [MCC] B.C. and MCC Canada). One of the speakers, Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Christian lawyer who is also the board chair of Bethlehem Bible College, emphasized that the only way to peace in Jerusalem is if no one claims exclusivity, and all the participants find a way to affirm each other’s presence there. According to Kuttab, Palestinian Christians are almost entirely pacifist, so this conviction informs their approach in the pursuit of justice.
I was looking for New Testament scriptures that speak to this call for equal justice for all, but they are hard to find. The Old Testament has lots to say on the topic of justice, including, of course, Micah 6:8; but also the words of Zechariah 7: 9-10: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.” Ted Grimsrud at peacetheology.net points out that Jesus incarnates Old Testament justice. So that’s very cool; we don’t need New Testament scriptures on the matter, we have a living example.
Grimsrud also points to the fact that the Greek word dikaiosune can usually be translated either righteousness or justice. So if we substitute “justice” for the word “righteousness” in passages like Matthew 5:6,10 and 6:33, it gives new meaning. Grimsrud also points out that Jesus’ ministry of justice centres on “love of neighbour.” When we understand “love” as an action word, this commandment casts us directly into the call to act justly.
I met with the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA) while on sabbatical last October. Concrete acts of justice are being done by one of the ANiSA participants who works with an organization that helps people acquire land for their homes.
Whether it is gender equality, indigenous and non-indigenous relations, racial equality, the ability for young adults to acquire a home in the expensive Vancouver housing market, or any other matter of inequity, working towards establishing a level playing field so that no one is privileged over another seems to be our calling. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
Garry Janzen is executive minister of Mennonite Church B.C.