Why Compassion is Critical To Real Justice – Advent 2
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matt 9:36 NET
Has America lost its understanding of justice? In the aftermath of the Presidential election, the word justice was tossed around by folks who either felt vindicated or betrayed. That caused me to question, can real justice ever be served?
Most of the time, it seems that when we speak of justice, usually we talk equality with an intent towards being fair to everyone. But if our view of justice is limited to only what is fair, are we truly understanding the fullest meaning of the idea of justice?
Justice and Parenting
As I raise my children, I often hear echoing through the halls the familiar phrase, “That’s not fair.”
Funny, I don’t recall teaching that idea to them. Somehow intuitively, little children know when something is fair or unfair. Their sense of inequity is reinforced when their desires are not met, their demands go unsatisfied, their expectations remain unfulfilled, or their pride is wounded.
If I give one of my children three M&M’s and the other two, then I’m immediately chastised by the one who received less for the inequity and charged with unfairness.
Justice will be served! That’s hard to accomplish, particularly when there is an odd amount. So I have to make a decision, a choice. Do I give the remaining amount to one and not the other? Do I try to split the M&M down the middle, praying that it is equally proportioned and thus possibly avoiding offending either kid?
Further compounding this inescapable paradox is the price to be paid. If amounts are not precisely proportioned and dispensed out equally, I know the toddler will scream sending my blood pressure soaring and my patience plummeting. The dilemma is overwhelming.
Justice and Inequity
As a parent, I disdain inequity.
However, the inescapable reality of living in this world is this. Life is full of unfairness. Schemes to try and eliminate poverty fall victim to scandal or corruption. Power brokers refuse to let go of their resources because of the leverage over others it affords.
Because of the limited resources by agencies designed to help victims, some crimes go unpunished. Even worse, the organizations that are supposed to be protecting and seeking justice, at times, become perpetrators themselves leaving victims with nowhere to turn.
If life were perfect, and inequities did not exist, there would not be any need for justice. But that is not the world in which we live. Life, unfortunately, presents excesses and deficiencies at every turn forcing us to compromises and make choices.
Where justice plays a significant role is when unfair treatment, usually at the expense of minorities or the poor, is intentionally happening and going unpunished or ignored.
So is there any hope?
God’s Compassion and Our Role
You see somehow we have bought into the idea that justice means fairness. But that’s not exactly the vision outlined in the Bible. Instead, what we find in the Bible is the bigger purpose of alleviating suffering, healing brokenness, and confronting evil. To be certain inequity is a part of the issue but certainly not the whole idea.
The promised return of Jesus Christ has implications beyond what we can imagine. Like a king who has no need of resources, He will rule free of personal interest or gain. Because He is the creator of all things, He and He alone can bring perfect justice into the world. And that is the promise that we cling.
Consider this description of the Lord found in the book of Isaiah.
18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! 19 People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.
Read the verse again. Did you see the big ideas? Isaiah tells us that part of his core character is justice. And out of His sense of justice, He desires to be gracious and show compassion. That is the idea of justice according to the Bible.
We see this idea expressed in Matt 9:36 where Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them. Then, like today, the issue flowed ultimately out of the need for a shepherd-king to rule and govern their lives. And because of his compassion, he eventually went to the cross on their behalf to exact final justice for the retribution of sin.
If Christ was concerned about fairness, he would have never gone to the cross. It wasn’t fair for him to die on our behalf. No, instead it was Christ’s compassion. In a world filled inequities, compassion must drive justice.
So where do we start? We must begin with repentance. Remember Jesus’ opening statement in the Gospels, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God, is at hand.” That call applies even today. We must repent of callous hearts, judgmental attitudes, and critical spirits. Those are attributes are not kingdom-minded.
We must repent of our sin and cultivate hearts of compassion. Only through compassion will justice ever be substantially realized.