On my home from work, I drive past the reader board of a local church. This week, the reader board says, “May Justice and Peace Ring Out!” Justice is quite the buzz-word these days. In popular usage, it means things are “fair”: Everyone enjoys the same opportunities, advantages, and success. The playing field is level, and the scores are fixed. (Here’s a hint: it’s always a tie). Having visited this church a few times I have a fair idea this is what they mean by justice as well. But I’m not sure that’s what the Bible means. Here’s what justice looks like in the kingdom of God:
A guy hires a bunch of day laborers. Some work all day, some a few hours, and some only work an hour. They all get paid the same wage (Matt. 20:1-16).
A wealthy man goes on a trip and asks three employees to invest some money for him while he’s gone. He gives the first a large amount, the second a modest amount, and the third a small amount. The first employee makes the largest profit (of course) and gets the biggest promotion when his employer returns; the second a modest profit and promotion. The third employee makes no profit and is fired. His investment capital is taken from him and given to the first employee who made the most profit and got the biggest promotion (Matt. 25:14-30).
A man’s younger son takes his part of the inheritance before his father dies. He blows all the money on bimbos and booze. Meanwhile, his older brother stays home, dutifully helping to run his father’s estate. When the younger son is out of money he goes home, his tail between his legs. Dad throws a block-party for him. When the good son complains, dad tells him off for being upset about the situation (Luke 15:11-32).
All of this “fairness” brings us to the cross. The cross is the definition of justice in God’s kingdom. Here’s how this plays: Jesus emptied Himself of divinity to become human so He could die to pay the penalty for generations of sins He didn’t commit so God’s righteous requirements could be met in us who couldn’t meet them (Php. 2:5-8; Rom. 8:3-4).
The cross exposes something about us. “Fair” is the word that’s trotted out when your selfishness encroaches on my selfishness; or when my selfishness envies your selfishness. We make things “fair” so that everyone’s selfishness is protected. And thanks to the magic of euphemism, we can feel pride in being fair instead of feeling crummy about our fallen natures ruling us. Win-win. In the utopia of fairness, no love or sacrifice is needed. What does this have to do with the kingdom of God? Not much. But at least everybody’s happy.