How does Jesus relate to justice? Two extremes should be avoided when answering this question. One extreme argues that Jesus has nothing to do with justice. Another extreme answer is that Jesus is primarily about justice.
Of course, the terms should be defined. What is justice? Today the term “social justice” is thrown around. Technically, social justice is about the unfair distribution of wealth or opportunity or privilege in a society. Did Jesus care about the fair distribution of wealth? Was he a revolutionary who came to bring about a classless society? Does he have anything to say regarding topics like white privilege?
Again, one extreme would argue that if this is the meaning of justice then Jesus has nothing to do with justice. However, again, another extreme would argue that Jesus was primarily concerned with bringing about a more just society.
Preachers have long turned to the prophets in order to speak to justice. For example, the great civil rights preacher Martin Luther King Jr. regularly turned to the prophets for images in his sermons. He quoted Amos 5:24 in his “I Have a Dream” speech when he said he would not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” In the same speech he referenced Isaiah 40:4-5 when he spoke of a dream where “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” he wrote, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns.” Further, the night before he died, he preached at Memphis’ Masonic Temple and said, “But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain, and I’ve looked over. And I have seen the Promised Land.”
It is natural and right for Christians to go to those images and to the prophets when advocating for justice. After all, the prophets did more forthtelling than foretelling. Their voices still ring in the face of contemporary injustices. Following the example of Martin Luther King Jr., preachers should use their voices to advocate for a more just society. But it matters how we use those passages. Sound hermeneutical principles and biblical theology still apply when preaching the prophets. Contemporary preachers must demonstrate how they get from a verse like Amos 5:24 to tax policy.
For example, Micah 6:8 reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The social justice warriors love the “do justice” part of this verse. They are right that this verse has something to say regarding tort reform and length of jail sentences. However, do social justice warriors have the same love for the “love kindness” and “walk humbly with your God” parts? Further, what does it mean to “walk humbly with your God?” Even further still, how does walking humbly with God relate to doing justice? Sound hermeneutical principles and biblical theology help answer those questions.
You see, the way Jesus relates to justice is through a Christocentric interpretation and application of the prophets. When Jesus was given the chance to interpret “all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27) he interpreted them according to himself and his works. Luke 24:27 says he interpreted the prophets “concerning himself.” He did not interpret the prophets disconnected from himself and his gospel works.
Likewise, when contemporary preachers try to jump from Micah 6:8 to marginal tax rates, they must first connect Micah 6:8 to Jesus and the gospel. For example, what does it mean to “walk humbly with your God?” Romans 6:4 says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” A preacher cannot go straight from Micah 6:8 to tax codes without first addressing our new life in Christ. The interpretation and application are more profound than just voting a certain way. Faithful preaching on justice must include clarity on how someone is born again through faith in Christ and then how they live new lives united to Christ.
Does Jesus have something to say about injustices? Yes, but it is more profound than a political rant to vote a particular issue. Jesus’ ethics are connected to his person and works. He wants us to work for justice, but according to our new life in him. Further, true humility toward God recognizes that he is the only one to really bring about perfect lasting justice. Eternal justice will not ultimately come until he returns. However, the call is to work for it here while we are here. But, when preaching the prophets, never forget that something glorious happened after the prophets that gives new illumination to the prophets. Jesus does speak to injustice, but his sermon is more beautiful radical and profound than any politician’s speech.