Most Christians have a head-knowledge understanding that the Christian life involves righteousness, and they are quick to say that it is something that seems impossible. Often we like to remind ourselves that nobody is perfect. And, as for justice, I know I often think in terms of someone else getting their due, but beyond consequences for actions (and struggling with me having any – I mean – God is merciful, right?!), I can at best picture the blindfolded woman of justice holding her scales (the lawyer in me comes out). But justice for the ancient Hebrew meant making wrongs right, including taking care of the poor and needy regardless of the reasons an individual was poor and needy.
Anyway, this morning I was reading from the Book of Amos after spending some time late last night in a book called Freedom of Simplicity, by Richard J. Foster, the author of Celebration of Discipline. I’ve read Amos several times but never really considered much about what it meant or how to apply it to myself. Please read this carefully:
For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for silver,
And the poor for a pair of sandals…. Amos 2:6.
Let that sink in. There are other sins God names after this first one, but He puts at the top of the list this “sin.” What is the sin? In the passage God is calling Israel unrighteous and unjust because they are putting personal accumulation of wealth above helping the poor. In fact, God specifically notes that people are willing to “sell the poor” (that is, keep the poor poor or, worse, allow them to sell themselves into slavery) so that they might have an extra pair of shoes (rather than using the accumulated wealth they have to prevent such injustice).
Hmmm, applicable in today’s world? Let’s see… what’s in my closet? Several pairs of shoes. And not shoes of the Payless variety (although I have begun looking there given my new occupation). Do I know of people who have no shoes? Yep. I saw hundreds of them in the Philippines as just one example. Let’s see, the next time I have money to spend on a new pair of shoes could it be that God might be gently prodding me to take that money and buy a pair (or two or three or more) shoes for some people who have no shoes?
And, why stop at shoes? I can look at the society I lived in in Fayetteville, Arkansas and see excess in every aspect of life. Homes, clothes, food, you name it – Americans got it. Others don’t.
After reading that I then pulled up my internet browser and saw this article in Yahoo! Richest Man In India Building $1 Billion House. It was only then I began to admit to myself that God might be really trying to teach me something. Now, I hesitate to write about some guy building a billion dollar home because it could lead some to compare. I know it is easy for me to say, “Wow, now there is injustice. I mean, here’s a man living in a country where the per capita income is about $700 and he’s hoarding his $22 billion dollar wealth and building a billion dollar home. Given that my having a closet full of clothes and eating rich and expensive foods doesn’t seem so bad. Right?!” Wrong. God doesn’t call us to compare, except to compare to the life of Jesus Christ.
Bottom line? The life God has called us to – to take up our cross daily, to look out for the interests of others, to walk in love, not to grow weary of doing good – a life of righteousness, involves justice, making wrongs right in all arenas of life. In American society we are blinded to how unjustly we live, often ignoring the plight of the poor around the world. We even equate financial success with virtue because financial success, in our equations, results from the blessing of God, hard work, and personal responsibility. Someone who is rich deserves to enjoy the fruits thereof because they’ve “earned” it. (Never mind that “earning” something and the “blessing of God” are contradictory). And, sharing and economic equality smacks of socialism, not capitalism, and that surely isn’t American. And, well if it isn’t American can it really be Christian?
The God we claim to worship and who alone is worthy of our worship sees things a bit differently than we do – surprise, surprise. He calls us to justice and righteousness. Two things that go together like peas and carrots. Love and Marriage. Danny and Sandy.