Not Some Day, Every Day

fire
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/compasspoint/2115431356/">Staci L.</a>

Malachi 4:1-4

“Mind you, the day is coming, red hot, to incinerate the arrogant bastards like so much garbage,” God says. “Nothing will be left of them, not one scrap.”

“But for those who stay true, it’ll be like the dawning of justice, and it will heal you. You’ll be free from the cells where the wicked tied you, and you’ll walk on their ashen graves,” God says. “Just remember what my main man Moses taught you. At the place of destruction, I gave him instructions to pass along to you.”

This is Malachi’s “cosmic karma” plan. Everyone will get what’s coming to them. The bad will be wiped out. The good will be rewarded. God will suddenly restore the balance of justice.

In Malachi’s own day, it expressed the hope that the wrongs he saw all around him would be put right, and it had both an individual and a communal dimension. Individuals were responsible for the corruption of the national character, and the vision of the flames consuming them applied individually. But it also applied on a societal level. Nations that continued in corruption, aggression, and hubris would be wiped out, those that (like the purified Israel Malachi lobbied for) purified themselves before God came to do it for them would prosper.

Alas (or perhaps fortunately) the “great and terrible day” of God’s swift burning justice has yet to come. Or perhaps it comes in part every day. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of saying, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it sweeps toward justice.”

The question is not whether the “day of the Lord” is imminent. It’s not meant to be marked in red numbers on a calendar. For those who care about justice, it is every day.

The question is, on any given day, and especially today: which side of the long arc of justice are you on?

Orwellian Equality

two women, one traditionally dressed, the othre in modern clothes
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/adam_jones/3774290540/">Adam Jones</a>

Acts 10:34-43

 Then Peter told them:

“Now I get it. God doesn’t count some people as if they were better than others. Wherever you come from, if you do what’s right, you’re OK with God. You know, by sending Jesus, God sent the Israelis a message of peace. But Jesus is the same message to everyone. Starting in Galilee with John’s announcement that God had sent Jesus with a different powerful spirit, it spread through Judea. Then he went all over the place doing good and healing everyone who the devil had ground down. God was with him, and we are witnesses to what he did in Judea and Jerusalem. They executed him, hung him on a tree. But three days later God raised him up, and made it obvious, certainly not to everyone, but to us, whom God had chosen to see it, and we ate and drank with him after he’d risen. He ordered us to tell everyone that he’s the one God has appointed to judge everyone, whether living or dead. All the truth-tellers say that whoever embraces him is forgiven all their wrongdoing because of him.”

The message of Jesus is, at it’s heart, peace. At the core of that peace is the kind of “doing right” that embraces a radical equality.

Peter’s speech is set at the first meeting between the Israeli contingent of Jesus followers and the first followers of other races and religions. Each of these groups considered themselves “better” than the other. Each had a long history of hostility against the other. The question is, how will they become a community together.

Peter’s answer to that question is given in retelling the Jesus story, ending with Jesus as the cosmic judge over “the living and the dead.” Already, in this retelling of the Jesus story a generation after Jesus, the emphasis has moved from Jesus’ treatment of all people as equal to Jesus enforcing the principle of equality as a divine judge. The motive has moved from emulation from inner conviction to conformity to the requirements of an external divine judge.

Furthermore, we see that the exercise of the divine judgment is becoming located more definitively in the say-so of the apostles, who claim a special, more personal connection with Jesus. Ironically, this speech attempts to enforce the practice of equality in the community by establishing a special better class of people.

The treatment of certain people as equal in God’s sight may be a new revelation to Peter, but at least as he plays it out in this speech, he still hasn’t really “got it.” He’s still stuck in the Orwellian bind of some people being more equal than others.

Your Priestly Calling

woman blessing
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/3042625930/">Wonderlane</a>

Hebrews 5:5-10

Jesus didn’t appoint himself to the high-priesthood. It was God who said,

You’re my child.
I’m your parent.

It was God who said,

You’re a priest,
In the tradition of the king of justice.

When Jesus was with us in the flesh, he prayed, pleaded with cries and tears, that God would spare his life. His prayers were heard, but in spite of being God’s child, he still had to go through with the suffering. It was through the suffering that he became the life-saving spring for everyone who follows his calling. He was appointed by God to be a priest in the tradition of the king of justice.

“Melchizedek,” from the Hebrew roots m-l-k “king” and tz-d-k “righteousness, justice,” is first mentioned in Genesis 14 as the priestly king who blesses Abram. You can look it up.

Doing justice is no picnic. It’s a calling. It involves suffering. Lifesaving, life-giving, life-affirming suffering.

Which is not to say that one ought to be a doormat. What it does mean is that you have to do the work, put in the time, endure the nay-sayers, the make-fun-of-yous, and the it-can’t-be-done people. It does mean that you have to take a stand, even when it’s unpopular. Even when it lands you in hot water.

It means that you actually have to put your life on the line for something worthwhile.

It means that being privileged doesn’t exempt you from putting your life on the line for what’s right. If you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you’re no better when it comes to doing right than someone who was born in a slum in Calcutta or East LA. All it means is that you’re responsible for more to start with.

Anyone can be a priest in the tradition of the king of justice. You can be a source of blessing. Jesus was God’s child, sure. But so are you. All you’ve got to do is put your life on the line for something wonderfully right.

Justice Starts on the Inside

batman having a bad day
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nathanlewis/4414860555/">Nathan Lewis</a>

Jeremiah 31:31-34

“Without fail,” God says, “I’ll make a new deal with Israel and Judah.”

“It won’t be like the deal I made with the ancients when I personally brought them out from slavery in Egypt. They reneged on that deal, even though I was the boss,” God says.

“Here’s the deal I’ll soon make with Israel,” God says. “I’ll make justice second nature to them. I’ll write what’s right into their very DNA. I’ll be their God, and they’ll be my people. They won’t have to teach each other to know God, because it’ll be a given for everyone from the average schmo to the king.”

God says, “I’ll commute their sentence. It’ll be like their evildoing never happened.”

To know God is to have justice be second nature. For a nation to know God doesn’t require having a “Christian” President. It requires people to do right, “from the average schmo to the king.”

It’s a pretty tall order. But that’s the deal.

From a human perspective, something becomes second nature by practice. Justice, like anything else, is something that improves with practice. It’s a matter of forming good habits. By repetition. Over and over, in every situation, doing the right thing. Doing the sometimes hard thing.

The good news is, the capacity to do right, just as much as the capacity to do wrong, is written into human DNA. It’s not impossible. Truly, the capacity to reflect, to weigh the options, and to choose a response is one of the things that makes us human.

What is true of humans is also true of their institutions. Only instead of habits, we call institutional habits “culture.” Whether it’s corporate culture, church culture, or national culture. How much the DNA of justice is present in the culture is a function of how many of it’s humans have the justice DNA, and how many of them exercise it to the point where it becomes second nature.

Changing the culture, and doing justice, starts with changing you.