on washing hands

March 30, 2013 at 8:31 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , )

There is a darkness, deep and insidious in the story of Christ’s last hours. It is the darkness of the human soul come unashamedly and self-justified to the fore: the betrayal of Judas wrapped up in a kiss of false friendship; the denial of Peter as he lurks in the shadows around that early morning fire; the vicious mocking, insulting and beating in the courtyard of the high priest – at the very hands of the most piously religious; the crowd riled up to a feverish pitch – driven by fear, jealousy, pride; the lying of the false-witnesses placed in the crowd; the deep and heart-wrenching mourning of the women, powerless and voiceless in the face of the religious and social and political spheres in which this all plays out; and then the soldiers, dividing up his clothes even as he hung dying.

I walked the stations last night, entering into the story of each of these players and identifying their humanity in my own. I remembered times I had betrayed or been betrayed and even how some of those moments were prefaced with a kiss. I thought of how I deny countless times a day when what I profess and how I act doesn’t match up. Or even the moments when I downplay or disguise or sugar-coat my faith so as not to offend or put myself in the firing line. I thought about the times when my own piety is pushed viciously to the side and I become “other” – mean-spirited, mocking, pouncing on the weaknesses in others to raise myself. I thought of the places my fear, jealousy, pride and conformity have driven me to – the things I have done or not done as I’ve looked to fit into the crowd. I’ve lied, I’ve stretched the truth, I’ve been played by others more devious than me. I’ve certainly mourned and felt powerless. But sometimes I’ve hushed and pushed others to the silent-fringe so I could have my oh-so-important say. I’ve taken and divided up the lot, generously and evenly, of the poor, the outcast, the dying and the innocent. Countless times. And somehow I’ve managed to justify it all.

washing hands

But there is one whose actions came home for me in a powerful way last night. Pontius Pilate. The one who asked Jesus, “what is truth?” and when the answer came resoundingly back to him, even without a word being said, was compelled to say, “I find no fault in him”. He looked in the face of innocence and through the roars of the crowd knew, without a doubt, that this was a greater moment of justice than any he had faced. He knew this was a dramatic moment of oppression and injustice. He knew the good, knew the right thing to do and, more significantly, had the power to act on that knowledge. Yet he turned away and chose not to act. And then he sealed his guilt with the very prophetic act he intended to assuage it with: he washes his hands in front of the crowd saying, “”I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.” In that moment the full weight of responsibility and blame falls upon his own shoulders even as he feebly tries to abdicate responsibility and acquit himself. His justification becomes his judgement.

Ah, how many times have we poured that same water over our hands which refused to act. How often have we had to cry afterward, “Out, out damn spot!” as our hands drip with the blood of the innocent, the abused, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, the lonely, the outcast, the stranger, the widow, the orphan. How often have we kissed and betrayed, denied and mocked, lied and allowed ourselves to be driven by fear, jealousy and pride, kicked to the curb, silenced and dishonored – and justified our actions with the washing of our hands. Abdicated responsibility, acquitted ourselves of guilt and turned in the same breath to divide the clothes of those we have thus betrayed.

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On public rememberance..

May 11, 2010 at 6:35 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , )

In preparation for my upcoming talk on Social Justice at church on Sunday, I have been reading a chapter by Wolterstorff entitled, “Justice in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible”.  Today, sitting in a borrowed car in the middle of one of the poorest and most destitute townships in Cape Town, I read about why social justice is so close to God’s heart. Why does God repeatedly and so emphatically enjoin Israel to render justice to the “least of these” – widows, orphans, aliens and the poor? Wolterstorff proposes two answers. Firstly they are to do it as a public rememberance or a memorial of their own deliverance, by God, from Egypt (Lev 19:33; Deut 24:7; Deut 24:21). In response to what God has done for them, and as a public testimony and memorial, they are to do likewise. Ah…the penny drops! *Unless you forgive your brother, I will not forgive you.* *The story of the merciful servant* There is a solid principal here which runs through the Bible, I believe: …  out of the forgiveness, redemption and restoration of relationship which Christ demonstrated to us, we are to forgive, redeem, and restore others. And to do so publically as a testimony of the justice which has been meted out to us in Christ.

Secondly, the bringing of justice is God’s own cause. His deliverance of Israel is but one example of His desire for and commitment to justice (Isaiah 58:6-7; Psalm 113:7-8). Israel, and by extension all who call themselves follows of Christ, was to “participate in Yahweh’s cause (abiding commitment to justice) by imitating and obeying Yahweh in pursuing justice” (p. 81). Why? Because “Yahweh loves justice”! (Isaiah 61:8; Psalm 37:28; Psalm 99:4).

“God acts justly and enjoins the doing of justice by his human creatures because God loves justice” (P. 81). This injunction is not arbitrary – rather His “pursuit of justice and Yahweh’s injunction to practice justice are grounded in Yahweh’s love”. God loves people, He DESIRES that they flourish, that they have SHALOM. Justice is indespensable to flourishing and shalom for everyone.

This excites me!

More on this… don’t want to spoil the talk on Sunday!

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defining social justice

April 27, 2010 at 7:21 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , )

I think this is a pretty good definition, or at least understanding of, social justice. It is by no means complete, but the next step in my struggle with what this all means and how it translates into how we live our lives.

LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin

“The Jewish and the Christian scriptures repeatedly pair two inextricably interrelated qualities: “righteousness” (right relationship with God) and “justice” (right relationships among people). “Justice” is always focused on those who have been excluded from the advantages of economic and political power – the poor, the sick, the outsider, the despised and rejected. The prophets challenge the Kings and wealthy of Israel with neglecting their responsibility because they do not care for the poor. Jesus equates the way people treat “the least of these” with the way they treat him personally. He also calls equal the two greatest commandments – to love God wholly and to love your neighbor as yourself. The vertical relationship with God necessitates the horizontal relationship with humankind.

Christian spirituality is never just individual and personal; it is always also communal and collective. Centripetal faith always becomes centrifugal, and vice versa. A “spiritual” gospel which has no call to social responsibility is self-serving sentimental narcissism. A “social” gospel which has no reverence for the Divine is barren self-justification, prone to burnout.

Biblically speaking, a primary responsibility of the nation is to take care of its entire people. The responsibility of religion is pastorally to model this compassionate social justice and prophetically to call the whole nation to follow.

Social justice is not an occasional theme of Christian faith and scripture; it is the central theme. Though they may not agree on their definitions of righteousness or justice, both progressive and conservative churches believe in the responsibility of the state and the church to be socially engaged in making the world a better place for all people. Without it, the faith becomes a way for the powerful to feel good about themselves while ignoring the exploitation and suffering of the powerless – and their own participation in it.”

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