WebDef: Justice

Jus·tice /jəstəs/ – Noun: Moral rightness, fairness

The Bible is replete with stories and teachings about justice. There are enough, in fact, that an edition of the Bible exists, pointing them out in orange (see povertyandjusticebible.org).

The Old Testament: Widows and Orphans

When reading the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) you might notice the term "widow and orphan" used regularly. It can be considered a sort of biblical shorthand for all who are unable to advocate for themselves, and who need a champion. God's call for justice applies to everyone who is easily judged, marginalized, excluded, discounted or thrown away. Here are just a very few select quotes, to give you a flavor for the Bible's teachings:

  • Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. – Exodus 22:21-22
  • Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning. Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the Lord. Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the Lord. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. – Leviticus 19:13-17
  • That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. – Deut 16:20
  • Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. – Deut 27:19
  • [It is] joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction [shall be] to the workers of iniquity. – Proverbs 21:15
  • Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. – Isaiah 1:17
  • Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm. Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.– Prov 3:27-31
  • He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. – Prov 14:21
  • Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. – Prov 21:13
  • He (or she) that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor. – Prov 22:9
  • Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: 23 For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them. – Prov 22:22
  • A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food. – Prov 28:3
  • As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people. – Prov 28:15

The New Testament: Many Justice Parables

Jesus was very clear about obeying God and walking in integrity. In the Gospel of Mark, it is laid out as follows: Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. (Mark 10:19). Jesus' great commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) But Jesus illustrated his point with parables, or stories. Seventeen of Jesus' most cutting parables that touch on social justice, power, mercy, and social station can be found only in the Gospel of Luke: the two debtors, the good Samaritan, the rich fool, the unjust steward, and more. Here are a few favorites:

Help at Midnight [Lk 11:5-10] Barren Fig-Tree [Lk 13:6-8] Dishonest Manager [Lk 16:1-13] The Door Closes [Lk 13:24-30]
Faithful Servants [Lk 12:35-48] Good Samaritan [Lk 10:25-37] How to Be a Guest [Lk 14:7-14] King & Tower-Builder [Lk 14:28-32]
Lazarus/Rich Man [Lk 16:19-31] Lost Coin [Lk 15:8-10] Pharisee & Tax Collector [Lk 18:9-14] The Prodigal Son [Lk 15:11-32]
The Rich Fool [Lk 12:16-21] Servant's Reward [Lk 17:7-10] Two Debtors [Lk 7:41-43] Unjust Judge [Lk 18:1-8]

The apostles, too, spoke at length about forbearance, kindness, and mercy in direct relationship with justice. For example, in his Epistle (letter) to the Church Ephesians, Paul wrote about mercy directly, admonishing them this way: "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32). James, too, spoke similarly: "Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door." (James 5:9) and "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." (James 1:19-20) John explains how to walk justly as follows:

But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. – 1 John 3:14-24

Jesus and his followers spoke in the language of their time, using vivid imagery of the time. Today, our population is increasingly urban. Readers still relate to burglar2 or wicked tenants,3 but may be unfamiliar with raw salt, sheep in a flock, wild fig trees,4 old wineskins bursting from new wine,5 or seeds.6 For this reason, modern writers at times attempt to set these same parables to new imagery.

See also related Webdefs entries, including entries on Mercy, Peace, Wisdom, and Love.

1Mark 4:10-12 Matt 13:10-17 Luke 8:9-10
2Regarding Burglars: Matt 24:43-44 ~ Luke 12:39-40
3Wicked tenants: Matt 21:33-44 ~ Mark 12:1-11 ~ Luke 20:9-18
4Shepherd, Sheep: Matt 18:10-14 ~ Luke 15:3-7
5Wine and wineskins: Matt 9:16-17 ~ Mark 2:21-22 ~ Luke 5:36-39
6Seeds, the planting of seeds: Matt 13:3-9, 13:18-23 ~ Mark 4.3-9, 4:13-20 ~ Luke 8:5-8, 8:11-15

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