Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Matthew 5.6: Justice or Righteousness...and so what?

As I sat down to blog, I got a great email from a 14-year-old distant relative tonight. She's a sharp cookie in a great learning environment. Here's her question: "For my dad's class we were assigned people to ask questions about what we have been learning. My question for you is "What is the meaning of Matthew 6:5 - Could righteousness be justice? Why, Why not, and so what. Hope this isn't too much of a bother." Her father is also a sharp cookie and a great one for bouncing ideas around with, so he knew what he was doing when he assigned this question, and I'm certain to be playing into his hands as he molds the next generation of American evangelicals into self-sacrificial, justice-minded individuals. I thought my response to her would make a reasonable blog entry.

A., this is a tough question. The Greek word "dikaiosune" can be
used for both righteousness and justice...[skip stuff about LXX]...I'm
inclined to say that Matthew might not have tried to make too much distinction;
he probably often thinks of them as both being part of the meaning of
dikaiosune when he uses it.

But in Matthew 5:6 (is this what
you mean? righteousness isn't in 6:5), I think Matthew almost certainly
wants us to have justice in view. These beatitudes are about people who
are in trouble, beat up, crying, have lost land, suffered scorned, been mocked,
misunderstood, and even persecuted in this present life, primarily because of
their relationship with Jesus and his people and the way they live their life as
a result. Therefore, these people are hungry and thirsty for JUSTICE, for
the right thing to be done and for God to vindicate them in their
suffering. They are oppressed and rejected and despised--but they can
know, says Jesus, that God is on their side right now, and in the future.
And because of what will happen in the future (we will be satisfied, and have
true justice and peace) we are blessed right now.

So what?
Well, this encourages us to seek justice for others, even at our own
expense, because that is good and godly; but mostly it helps us give up our
right to pursue justice for ourselves in this life. If we are hungry and
thirsty now for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom, then we know we have justice
in the end, and we are blessed now because of that. But if we try to hold
onto our rights, we usually will wind up hurting others or becoming selfish
people whose minds are set on ourselves, not on Jesus. This is why Paul
tells the Corinthians not to sue (1 Cor 6): it leads to the harming of others,
because human justice is never perfect, and when we get power we tend to hurt
others (vs. 8), and as Christians, we should trust in God's justice, count
ourselves blessed despite our problems. We should be willing to be
have others do us wrong and put up with injustice rather than fail in our
calling to love others in God's family (vs 7).

Hope all that
helps! If you want an A, you ought to try to think of some examples of how
this might work in your life.

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