Saturday, July 28, 2012

The justice of God

The reading for Morning Prayer this morning, which comes from the fourth week of the Psalter, is from the final chapter of 2 Peter, the first verse of which conveys,"What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to the promise, the justice of God will reside" (v. 13). In other translations, such as the New American Bible, the New Testament of which was not revised in the most recent revision, only the Hebrew Scriptures, "the justice of God will reside," is translated "in which righteousness dwells." In either case, what we await is God's kingdom.

I have little doubt that for those who will experience the fullness of God's kingdom, of God's justice, or righteousness, whom I hope to be among, there will be aspects that confirm and disappoint, maybe not in equal measure, but in some measure. The measure will be proportional to the preconceptions we all bring with us.

What leads me to say this? Nothing other than Jesus' teaching about the reign of God. In these times when some are asserting a strong, individualist, hyper-capitalistic ethic, consider Jesus' parable of "The Workers in the Vineyard," as recorded in Matthew 20, which begins with Jesus saying,“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard" (v. 1). Later in the morning, the landowner goes back and finds more laborers and hires them for the going daily wage. He does the same at noon, three in the afternoon, and again at about 5:00 PM. At the end of the day all the laborers are paid the same daily wage regardless as to when they were hired. Predictably, this causes some discontent.

And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:11-16)
I earnestly hope that no Christian would suggest that this teaching of the Lord has no practical application this side of the eschaton, which will definitively usher in God's reign, for which we not only wait in joyful hope, but work to bring about. I also hope it doesn't get exaggerated so as to completely eviscerate the need for personal responsibility. Nonetheless, by my reckoning the operative ethic of the kingdom of God, which reaches back to Cain and Abel in Genesis, is not so much, "God helps those who help themselves," as it is, "God looks out for those who look out for others." This is why, when it comes to matters political, we insist on seeking the common good and not our own self-interest.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. Not only is it in the political arena that we now find an extreme "rugged individualism" but also in ecclesial life. I find more and more an emphasis by some on individual pietism and moralism insulated from the common good. This is of great concern to me, piety and moralism that leaves little room for justice in the marketplace or ecclesial life.


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