|Angel Trumpet blooming in the Garden of Grace.|
Want to do the will of God? Here’s one of the most critically important verses in the Bible. If you ponder it and integrate it, you can’t go wrong. God desires three things: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. If these are “the important matters,” Jesus implies conventional religious practice can unconsciously “neglect” and even replace these.
What did Jesus mean by “justice?”
The Greek word krisis is defined by conservative Evangelical scholar Dale Bruner in his Matthew, A Commentary:
"Almost all commentators agree that krisis is the concrete doing of justice, especially toward the poor and hurting, in the Jewish-prophetic spirit. (Old Testament commentator Schweizer tells us the primary purpose of Old Testament justice was protection, and therefore actually favored the weak.) To forestall the abstract interpretation and give the concrete sense of the word, I translated krisin as “social justice.” It is the presence or absence of social justice that will determine whether we have “real faith” at the Last Judgment’s separation of sheep and goats (Mt. 25:31-46 “I was hungry and you gave me food…as you did to the least of these, you did to me.”)"
Krisis can be translated today by the modern word “activist,” the people for whom righteousness, vindication and right conduct in the world seem painfully missing. I can actively pursue justice by tutoring those who didn’t have the same family, economic, or spiritual advantages I enjoyed. Justice and mercy flow at the Orange County Rescue Mission, where the unfortunate “least of these” are offered assistance to change their lives.
These are the weightier matters of the law
In these three, there is no flaw:
“Justice, mercy, faith,” other than that
“Is swallowing a camel, straining out a gnat.” R.S.
It is impossible to respect Jesus’ first word, “social justice,” and then cater to the pleasure-seeking injustices of the rich. With the gap between rich and poor widening daily, I can speak against this systemic injustice and woeful imbalance. When Jesus encountered it, He quickly took action, as when he over threw the money changers in the Temple (they exploited the worshipers who were poor). He proactively touched lepers outside the city gates (there because of the “neglect” of “justice and mercy” of the religious establishment).
If you want to major in the majors in pleasing God, Jesus should have your rapt attention when he makes this statement. He puts it in clear black and white letters. It is impossible to argue other matters, such as evangelism or following church tradition, are “the most important matters of the law.” To place undue emphasis elsewhere is to stray and risk “neglect” of what is truly important to God.
The only question that remains about the important matters is, “are we doing them?”
Decision for the Day
To put doing justice and loving mercy as higher priority than maintaining my comfortable status quo.
At its core, Christianity isn’t complicated.
About the Author: Ron Shackelford is a pastor (Honorably Retired) and licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the author of Married to an Opposite: Making Personality Differences Work For You. Other devotionals on this blog by Ron include The Vulnerable Bible, The Learning Man, Moved By Joy and Tomorrow's Troubles.