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Restack the boxes

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Have you seen the picture? Two simple drawings of three children watching a baseball game. One image is labelled “equality,” the other “justice.”

It took me a moment to see the distinction, a child’s game of “spot the differences.”

In the one picture, each child stands on a box of identical size to watch a baseball game on the other side of a fence. This is equality.

But the children aren’t the same height. One is considerably taller, able to view the game comfortably, while the smallest child still can’t see over the fence at all.

In the photo labelled “justice,” the tallest child stands on the ground, watching the plays without difficulty. One box raises up the medium-height child, and two boxes enable the little one to see the game.

The powerful image speaks for itself…once you realize what’s going on.

And isn’t that often the way it is? We don’t question the way things work unless something causes us to pause and reassess the situation, to ask questions and look through new eyes.

As I mulled over this image, I began to realize that – particularly from a position of white privilege – we often see justice as crusading, as standing up for rights, as making waves for the sake of a principle.

Justice is about helping people, for sure, but it can become an intellectual exercise. It’s about legality and morality and maybe a bit of punishment. Fairness, equality, perhaps a dash of retribution – these are words we like to partner with justice.

But is that God’s justice?

Biblical justice “creates a system that protects the disadvantaged, orphans, widows and aliens,” wrote Lynn Jost, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary professor, in a study on 1 Kings. “It’s not enough to enforce laws fairly; justice provides for those in need and defends the afflicted.”

What if the justice to which God calls his people over and over again through Scripture is about how we treat those four categories of people mentioned above, not only in our intellectual commitments and societal systems but our day-to-day interactions? What if justice goes hand-in-hand with self-sacrifice and grace?

The seven devotions in the week of prayer included with this month’s Herald reflect on the prophet Micah’s often-quoted call to God’s people: to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly (6:8).

That doesn’t sound like crusading. In fact, throughout the Bible, justice is often coupled with mercy and compassion, and the way we treat those who are widows, orphans, foreigners and otherwise marginalized.

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

I hear gentleness and an invitation to attentiveness. Who is suffering? What are the causes of their afflictions? Once I have come to understand through truly listening to the other and the Spirit of God, what action does justice require of me in this situation?
Maybe we don’t quickly distribute the boxes to all; we assess, and with insight, realize that to help each one experience the game in peace, some need a higher lift than others.

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

I hear sacrificial generosity. Humility teaches that it’s not about me. God and others come first. What do I have? What don’t you? What actions might we take, not to equalize, but bring wholeness, to foster a climate for everyone’s flourishing?

Mercy, like its counterpart grace, says I’ll give to make sure you have. I don’t need the box to see over the fence.

Opportunity to live this out is all around us. Canada is receiving foreigners in waves of displaced Syrians and other refugee families being sponsored as the church wakes up to injustice around the world. We need to also awaken to injustice at home: Canada’s national shame is the disadvantaged population of First Nations people and the vulnerable women and children abused or murdered by exploiters.

As I write this, we are in the season of Advent, and I think of Mary’s Magnificat. In her hymn of praise to God, the mother of Jesus paints a vision of a just world – where God humbles the proud and the cruel and gives the poor good things (Luke 1:46–55).

How will we as the people of God distribute the boxes for the cause of justice?

Are we willing to give not just our money but our hearts? Are we willing to give up not just our time but our preferences and our privilege? Are we willing to not only teach but to listen and learn – and where needed, to apologize?

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Let’s rearrange the picture for the kingdom of God.

—Karla Braun

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