You can tell a lot about a person by the way they interpret the word Justice. This is because there are so many meanings that have been associated with the word. While there are an infinite number of nuances to the word, I see basically two major interpretation streams. The first set of interpretations is based on a call for punitive justice. This justice sees that the world needs to be put back in order by exacting something from another to make all things right. The second set of interpretations allows justice to reject a punitive aspect en-lieu of a justice that is based on an individual’s call to moral living and the community’s call for caring for one another.
When we talk about Justice, the first thing that often comes to people’s mind is our Justice system. This is based on an understanding that if you wronged someone, that person who you wronged would be made right through your punishment. It is also a justice that would say if you make a large sum of money, you would have to give some back to the greater efforts of the community. As you can see, in the secular world the concept of Justice can be seen as merely punitive.
Among the Christian community Justice caries the same basic idea of making society right, but instead of punitive means, Justice is found when we work from the perspective of love and grace. For Christ, the question boils down to “how can we build up, not tear down.” This perspective follows the understanding Jesus gives when he claims to have fulfilled the law and gives us a new way.
For me, this is very important, because I recognize that the law is often not just. Often, instead of getting people help, the law overly punishes; just look at the disparity of drug-related cases in prisons, where most of them really need to be in treatment facilities. But that is another letter altogether! The other problem with a traditional view of Justice is the assumption by the people doling out the justice that their perspective is the correct one. The problem is that there is bias within our perspectives so often Justice as a secular and legal concept will serve one population over the expense of another. This is the narrative of our past year’s Journey with the Black Lives Matter, the realization that what is often legal justice is not really that just.
This was made clear in watching a protest in Israel. A lot is taken that the problems in Israel are between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is true, but like every other culture and nation there are issues that arise when one group has power and another does not. On the Thursday and Sunday there were protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by the Ethiopians. The gist of these protest were similar to those that have sparked the issues we are seeing in America. While posing a very small percentage of the population, they have a disproportionately high rate of incarceration, among other issues. I guess this stuck out because it was the only time that we saw “violence” of any kind; even at that, it was pretty tame.
What was interesting was the societal tension between the definition of what it means to be Jewish and Jewish communities that are culturally very different from one another. This gave me yet another lens by which to see the issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and really see how difficult it is to create just communities when there are disparities and cultural differences with which interfere what is really best for the society as a whole.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen