She had tears in her eyes. He acknowledged the need to radically re-think how we learn to view others. These are just two responses to our use of N.T. Wright‘s, Surprised by Hope, for our Sunday morning Bible Study. Collectively we wrestle with eschatological visions cast for us in our adolescence.
You know. The sort that frames justice as punishment. Classically this is represented in the social collective that points to a rendered sentence as, “Justice has been served.” I am not sure when we began to conflate punishment with justice. But, we do. In fact, we tend to skew judgement into justice and thereby make the two interchangeable. They are not.
Wright makes a point to talk about justice in different terms. He is not opposed to punishment, or so it seems. Instead, Wright wants those who read Scripture to capture how justice is understood. Justice sets wrongs right. To talk about the God’s justice is to point to the day when God will set “the world to rights.” The widow is cared for. The stranger, immigrant, is not longer treated inhumanely. The orphaned receive family. These are the prominent prophetic themes.
Certainly the culprit for the lack is sin, individual, corporate, systemic. Some may dismiss this, but in its simplest form, when I disadvantage another human being, I have violated them in ways that, to my way of thinking, falls into the category of sin. Progressives will prefer another word. Liberals maybe even another. Conservatives will want to talk about only individual sins. Skeptics will prefer another explanation all together. Whatever a person choose to name the act, it is an injustice that needs to be righted. In a civil society, and I am sure some will argue we may not have achieved such a status with our warring and all, the social contract between human beings is intended to advantage both in relationship.
Our conversation Sunday turned to what it would mean if we stopped categorizing people, though it is natural for us to do so. See my use of labels above. We find it hard not to apply distinctions when pointing out ideologies. Even more it was suggested that we consider what it would mean to live with, share life with, those we shun as a result of our natural, visceral response tied to our own socialization.
One young mother in our class noted, “One way to overcome the way we treat others, like homeless people, would be to get to know them. Spend time with them.” Yes. And, we may make some discoveries that seem to be glossed in an election cycle fraught with victimizing the victims.
My friend Alan Cross pointed out the United States’ current economic trajectory will require reforms, particularly where entitlements are concerned. My mentor/election cycle nemesis Rick Davis warns the tax man cometh. It will hit us all. We will see a slow down to the recent feel good data out about the economy. We just cannot continue to print money.
True. But, what we often hear when talking about entitlements and reform is punitive. We assume we know the reason a person is homeless. Statistically we learn a high incidence of mental health issues contribute to homelessness. Where is the help? We also know from our experience, that many who are homeless indeed work, the problem they face is making enough to get them into affordable housing. Then there are those youth, one survey suggested 40%, who lose the security of their place to live when they inform their parents they are gay.
Many of us sit in our comfortable recliners and nice couches listening to the talking heads go on about entitlements and the sorts of people who receive benefits. Christians join the cacophonous cries that this is the land of opportunity people should get out there and make it happen for themselves. For some it is. For others it is not so simple. When we spout such short-sighted pontifications we bid them be warmed and filled without any cost to us. We protect our privilege.
My friend Jordon Cooper posted a video clip of an upcoming HBO movie. I have posted it in the right sidebar. Give it a watch. If there is someone I know whose vocational decisions have put him or her squarely in the line of those in need of justice, it is Jordon. And like him, Stacie. She works with the City Rescue Mission here in Oklahoma City. Every day these two, among others, bring justice. They do not mete out punishment. They do not pass judgement thereby condemning. Instead, they work for justice – the setting things to rights in the Name of Jesus. May their tribe increase and take in all of us who claim to follow Jesus.