Peace Without Justice is Oppression.
Several years ago I wrote that statement on a napkin and started to build a worldview of Peace and Social Justice around it. Those of you who have been following my writing for some time might remember one of my first published articles that expanded on that exact statement. If you like you can see the original postings here…
My original thought centered around the fact that most Peacemakers and Peace keepering forces around the world are focussed on the belief that peace is simply the absense of violence and when the shooting stops they’ve done their job. But when we take a closer look, a state of war and oppression can often continue long after, only to flare up in violence again at a later date. Often times, what appears to be peace is not peace at all and just because the fighting has stopped does not mean the war is over. In order to have a lasting peace we need to engage directly with those who may disagree, spend some time actively listening to their concerns and work towards justice.
At least that’s what I thought.
Recently I was challenged in that belief by a friend of mine who pointed out that what Jesus taught wasn’t justice in the traditional sense, but mercy. If we recognize our own sin and brokenness in everything and are really honest with ourselves about it what we really want for ourselves isn’t justice but mercy. Justice says “you do the crime, you do the time” but mercy says “forgive and forget.”
In the teachings of Jesus this point is driven home in what has been called The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant. Most people remember what Jesus said when Peter asked how many times he should forgive someone who sinned against him. Seven times? No Seventy-times seven! But what we forget is that Jesus then went on the tell the story of the unmerciful servant.
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. [Matthew 18:23-35]
You see, the servant couldn’t pay his debt and he knew that the just thing to do would be to sell al of his possessions (including his family) and give the money to the master. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the assets that he could liquidate and cover his obligations, the text is actually pretty clear that he did but the justice the situation required would have been quite painful. I don’t know about you but I think selling my wife to pay off a loan would be pretty devistating for everyone involved. So the servant asked for and received mercy, not justice.
The challenge for me, and hopefully for you, in this passage is this; knowing how much I fail to show mercy on a daily basis, do I really want to follow a God that is only interested in justice? Is it a good idea to only concern myself with what is just? Or should I instead be focussed on mercy?
As a result of looking at this passage I’ve modified my original cocktail napkin scribble to read; Peace AND Justice without Mercy is SIN. And pray daily that I continue to show mercy, just has God has been merciful to me.