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A justice not to be feared but to be longed for

Here is my servant, whom I uphold
my chosen, in whom my soul delights
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Isaiah 42:1-4, NRSV

Often when I have read this passage or ones like it my first inclination is to think of this “justice” being established as a punishing sort of justice. God sends his servant, the Messiah, to justly deal with sin by punishing the bad guys. That’s largely how we’ve been taught, at least within my faith tradition, to think about God’s justice – as something punitive and to be feared.

But then we get to Matthew 12.

The Pharisees confront Jesus about his disciples picking grain on the sabbath. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees. “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Jesus then goes into the synagogue and provokes them further by healing a man on the sabbath. Which drives the Pharisees to start conspiring how to destroy Jesus.

When Jesus became aware of this [that the Pharisees were conspiring to destroy him], he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
He will not break a bruised reed
or quench a smoldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Matthew 12:15-21, NRSV

This brought me up short when I read it this morning. This is what it looked like for Jesus to bring forth and establish justice. He rebuked the abusive religious traditions and hypocritical religious teachers. He healed. He didn’t just heal a few of them – read the words! “He cured all of them”!

What if, when we think about God’s justice, this is what comes to mind? Not a fearsome, punishing justice against sinners, but a loving restoration? A rebuke of abusive tradition? Jesus taking broken lives and bodies and making them whole? A justice that says ‘this is not how things were intended to be, and so I am making things right again’?

This is a justice not to be feared but to be longed for.

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