Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Exodus 18:13-27, 1 Peter 5:1-14, Matthew (1:1-17) 3:1-6
Did you know Moses had to develop an organizational chart? He was spending morning to evening serving as judge for the people. His father-in-law, Jethro, realized this situation was unsustainable; Moses would soon be exhausted and the people would suffer for it. Jethro suggested he select trustworthy men to share the burden, so Moses appointed judges “over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.” Does this system of lower and higher courts sound familiar? Only the most difficult cases floated up to Moses, a “supreme court” of one, which was probably fine since he reported directly to God.
Lawyers get blamed for our lawsuit-happy culture, but people have been seeking compensation for wrongs for millenia. The preamble to the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest known recorded set of laws pre-dating Moses by 300 years, states the Code was created in part “so that the strong should not harm the weak” and to “[bring] about the well-being of the oppressed.” Some of the penalties required under both Hammurabi and Moses might make that difficult to believe (adultery was punishable by death), but it’s important to remember both represented tremendous advances. “An eye for an eye” is a vast improvement over an essentially lawless culture practicing “the lives of your children for my eye.”
Whatever structure our legal system takes, people of faith must remember God’s justice does not begin with “what do people deserve?” but with “what do people need?” After all, the hungry steal less bread if there are fewer of them, and a person who has to leap twice as many hurdles to reach the same opportunity as someone else is half as likely to get there honestly. If we are to reflect God’s grace, unearned but freely given, we must found our sense of justice on mercy, not revenge. By the time punishment needs to be applied, the “justice” system has already failed.
Tens of people seeking God’s justice together soon form fifties. Then hundreds. Then thousands. While we look higher on the org chart and seek mercy, let’s be sure to look lower to see those who hopes for the same from us.
Comfort: God’s grace is freely given. Your job is to accept it, not earn it.
Challenge: Seriously consider where your ideas of justice diverge from the ideas Christ describes.
Prayer: Loving God, forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me. Amen.
Discussion: In what areas are you more concerned with the satisfaction of revenge or punishment than establishing a truly just society? What changes can you make in yourself and the world?
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