The theme of my sermon this morning was that, for many Christians, the concepts of “justice” and “righteousness” are devoid of mercy or contain little or insufficient mercy.

And this is contrary to God’s concept of justice and righteousness.

A sub-theme was that God’s concept of justice and righteousness involves affirmative actions of mercy by Christians, speaking up and taking action against situations of injustice and situations involving insufficient mercy.  But we too often remain silent.

Here is a description of part of it.

The Problem:  Misunderstanding of Justice and Righteousness — Need Mercy

We often think of “justice” in terms of others getting what they deserve or whatever the merits of the situation calls for.

And we often think of “righteousness” in terms of not sinning—or at least not as often as others or at least avoiding the “big” sins—and doing good deeds.

We don’t often use the term “righteousness” and might even cognitively define righteousness some other way, but our thoughts and actions, considering ourselves pretty-good Christians (or at least better in terms of sin and deeds than others), can often embody such “righteousness.”

But there is more to justice and righteousness, in Christian terms, in God’s terms:  they require mercy and acting merciful towards others, and doing so on a pro-active basis as an affirmative duty.

Unfortunately, the mercy part is not in the definition and practice of justice and righteousness for many Christians.

Justice League: Lots of Members

As to justice, many take “the other person did the crime, so they should do the time” approach.  It’s an outlook that if the other person “gets what they deserve,” then that is justice.  Justice is done.

It’s an outlook that “fair’s fair,” “they should have known,” “they should have known the law,” “it’s the law.”

Righteousness:  Avoiding Sin

As to righteousness, many think of righteousness as not sinning and then think of not sinning in terms of not breaking “the rules” — not stealing, not lying, not …., etc.

But That’s Not It

But these approaches to justice and righteousness is not what God asks.

Justice and righteousness, in Christian terms, in God’s terms, requires mercy and acting merciful towards others.

What Does God Require?  

This is the prophet Micah telling us what God says, starting with some rhetorical questions and then getting to the point in verse 8 (Micah 6:6-8):

6 With what shall I come before the Lord

    and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

    with calves a year old?

7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has shown you, O mortal, 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.

Focus again on verse 8:

He has shown you, O mortal, 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.

What does God require of us?  —- Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Doing Justice Requires Mercy

God ties acting justly — some translations call it “do justice” — with mercy and being humble.  God tells us to love mercy in conjunction with doing justice.

Doing justice without mercy is not to love mercy.  It is not doing the kind of justice God requires.

And part of being humble is not being too certain we are right.

Walking humbly, by necessity, requires acting with mercy.

Can’t Sit Back, Must Speak Up About Injustice

Do Christians have an obligation to affirmatively act?  To speak up about mercy, to actively take steps?

Jesus preached a sermon, a sermon we call the “Sermon on the Mount,” sometimes referred to as “the Beatitudes.”

Let’s look at part of it, Matthew 5:1-2, 6-7, 9-12.

5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

He said:  …

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy. …

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Notice that Jesus says blessed are those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

And those who are “the merciful.”

If you are able-bodied and -minded, and hunger and thirst for something, you actively and affirmatively seek it.  If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, including mercy, you act, you speak up.

And “the merciful” indicates not those who are thinking about being merciful, but those who are actually being merciful.

So, justice, mercy, righteousness, under the scripture, under what God, under what Jesus, asks us to do, in my view, is an affirmative, active action of being merciful.

The prophets did not sit back.  Peacemaking is not a sitting-back endeavor.  Being merciful requires action.  Hungering and thirsting for something involves action.

This is a call by Jesus to affirmatively take action.

It is not carried out by inaction and by silence.

Enjoy the Silence? No.

Inaction and silence is the mode of many Christians relative to mercy.

They know of the prisoner who needs mercy, but do not take action and stay silent.

They know of the immigrant who needs mercy, but do not take action and stay silent.

They know of the hungry and the poor, people who are down on their luck, people who have struggled with mental illness, …

They know of the discriminated against, the oppressed, ….

……  all of whom need justice …. all of whom need mercy ….

But yet, from them:  fair is fair, one get what one deserves, that is the law, defer to the authorities, it’s the way it is, ….

That is not God’s definition of justice and righteousness.  That is not mercy.

What does God require of us?  Mercy.

And not just an abstract mercy, but the action of mercy, the action of speaking up, the action of actually being merciful.

Mercy Mercy Me: Righteousness Without Mercy is Sin? 

If righteousness is not sinning, not missing the mark, and God says what he requires of us humans is loving mercy (Micah 6:8), isn’t not acting with mercy missing the mark?

Isn’t failing to act with mercy missing the mark?  Isn’t it sin?

Two Points in Closing:  Talk and Act

One of the main reasons I raise this today is that we all have the opportunity to talk about justice and righteousness (even if we don’t use that latter word often).

I raise this so when we talk with people about justice and righteousness, we can emphasize that justice and righteousness must involve mercy.

A second reason I raise this today is that we should know this so that we will realize this ourselves and actually practice it ourselves:  Practice mercy.

Importantly, we can practice mercy with ourselves.  We can be merciful with ourselves.

And we are surrounded by other humans who need mercy.  Jesus’s call is not a sit-back-and-wait call towards other people.  We are called to act, to speak up, when we see and hear of injustice or a lack of mercy.


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Sources and Notes

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