PURSUING JUSTICE                 Dr. John Perkins
In my years of ministry, from the dusty byways of rural Mendenhall to the lively streets of Northwest Pasadena, different Scriptures have become very special to me. In particular, two passages about justice have been real motivators. The first is Amos 5:24 (NASB), where God exhorts those who want to be religious but who exploit the poor to “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The other passage is in Micah 6:6, where he asks the question, “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God?” Micah’s answer cuts right to the heart of true religion: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (v. 8).
Justice is close to God’s heart, and ultimately justice is an economic issue. Justice is asking the question, “Who owns the earth?” Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Justice is being good stewards of God’s earth and resources.
Justice is our management of God’s resources, our working to make these resources open and available to all of God’s creatures. It is an injustice when access to the bounty of God’s creation is controlled by a greedy few. Therefore, a central part of our mission of representing a just God is to work for justice.
Two Old Testament concepts, the Sabbath and the Jubilee, are important in understanding justice. In Exodus 20:9, it says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD.” Leviticus 25, the description of the Sabbath and the year of Jubilee, gives a thorough explanation of right relationships between rich and poor that God expects from his people.
This call to justice leads us first and foremost to work to help people come to know this good God, the God of all creation, whose primary concern is that people know him and that he is good. Then we are to help people become workers together with God, working with their own hands. Finally, we are to enable people to enjoy the fruits of their own labor and then raise their hands in praise of God.
The American versions of slavery and sharecropping were so deplorable because they allowed greedy oppressors the unjust privilege of enjoying the fruit of another man’s labor. God emphasizes the importance of right relationships over and over again in his dealings with Israel; it is the most prominent theme of the Old Testament. God intended Israel’s witness to the world to be a witness of justice.
Their defense of the oppressed would make them shine as a light to the nations. The prophets told Israel over and over again that God would look mercifully upon them if they would live out the just demands of their Lord. Israel could not claim to follow Yahweh if their corporate life did not reflect the justice of his nature. Finally, Isaiah announces that Jesus, the Messiah, will come to establish justice and salvation, since Israel has failed to be God’s agent of justice.
How was Israel failing? The Jews were fasting and observing tithes and the Sabbath, but they were neglecting the “true fast,” which the prophet Isaiah described in Isaiah 58:5-10