Have you ever wondered how you really define the term “justice”? In the work our team does as the "12 Legions of Angels" we hear that word defined in so many different ways and in so many different contexts. The best definition of justice to me, seems to flow out of some of my most favorite verses…Micah 6:1-8. In these verses God calls his people to “remember”…remember the ways by which they themselves had been transformed. If you want to understand justice you need to first look at the justice God has extended to you and me. As is the case for most of us, Israel struggled to remember exactly that.
In typical fashion we get it wrong, as we invariably do, whenever we forget our true identity as a redeemed people or otherwise fail to factor the implications of God’s amazing grace. Israel’s response in Micah reflects a complete confusion over what exactly God seeks from a people who have been so graciously transformed and blessed. Like us, their superficial efforts of piety are their normal practice and yet they are totally unacceptable to God if they are not accompanied by lives dedicated to genuine love and measurable justice.
So what are these transforming “good things” we are to be about doing? Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man: What is good? And what is the LORD requiring of you?” Which is to say, “there’s no excuse for ignorance here; the confusion in your response is intolerable. This is something that has been known and everyone should know by virtue of the fact that the Creator and Covenant Lord has revealed to mankind what is good.” Through all of Scripture, we are given God’s definition of what is good in response to grace. This is why it continues to be a tragic commentary on the human condition that people think it their prerogative to deliberate over, even to vote on, matters which God has already decided!
So in verses 4 and 5 we see what kind of ‘good’ God’s people should emulate. They should live and relate to each other in ways that are consistent with how God in grace has blessed them. What good response, then, is God seeking from his graced people? “Only, to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (v. 8b). In rabbinic circles these three lines were regarded as a summary of all the commandments.
In Christian interpretation, these are the principal virtues to be cultivated by those who would seek to be faithful to the God of Scripture and the Father of Jesus our Lord, who embodied them perfectly.
So let’s take a look at what it means, “to do justice.” The expression used in Scripture, is to live by God’s decisions about what is right and good in relationship to others, especially those who suffer. “In the widest sense, it means ‘to put things right’, to intervene in a situation that is wrong, oppressive or out of control and to ‘fix’ it.” It is “to take action on behalf of the wronged and put things right.” Justice, in short, is what we are seeking when we pray,“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” especially as this involves the righting of social wrongs. On this understanding, our passage is saying that the proper response to God’s grace is to do good with it in relation to others by righting whatever is wrong. God’s grace, in other words, invites us to live in God’s world on God’s terms, extending what God calls good and right to others who stand in need of it.
Justice’, in most of its 425 occurrences in the Old Testament, is something you do, not merely a concept you believe in, wish for, and complain about when it is lacking.Moreover, scriptural usage focuses more on bringing justice to people than on bringing people to justice (at least in the Prophets, where it occurs most often, ‘justice’ speaks more to the issue of personal virtue, or the absence of it, than to any kind of legal concern in the judicial system). Further, it is plainly obvious from the biblical material that doing justice especially entails being attentive to the marginalized of society. This means that the subversion of justice for the disadvantaged is particularly heinous in God’s sight.
Justice, in the scriptural sense, is achieved only in the kingdom of God, of which the Church is its present and visible embodiment. If we wish to see justice as God delivers it, then we ought be able to say, confidently and humbly, “Look at the Church and its life in the world. Here is the place where ‘the least of these’ are cared for, the marginalized embraced, the disenfranchised valued, the exploited protected, the needy served, the enslaved liberated, the lost found, the wounded bound up and healed, the voiceless heard, and the evils of this world and its godless systems confronted and exposed.” This is “what is good,” and this is what “the LORD is requiring of you”.