Missouri & Yale & the gaps in our Gospel.
I’m reading the reports from Missouri and Yale and thinking about the gaps in our Gospel.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)
Woe to those who consolidate their spirituality into their personal piety while neglecting social action. Woe to those who go to church and live moral lives and claim right theology while neglecting justice. Woe to those who claim a change on the inside that never makes a difference to those weeping on the outside. At least that’s what Jesus said.
We always like to think of ourselves as the protagonist. When the preacher tells the story of David and Goliath, well, I’m David. Of course. The application is always along the lines of, You can do this. Find your slingshot. Trust God, and your enemies will fall. The story concludes with little David triumphantly removing the head of his massive and arrogant adversary. All the little Davids leave church happy. Yet I’ve never heard a preacher land the sermon with, Hey big man, don’t lose your head. Because I’m always the protagonist. I couldn’t be Goliath.
As I watch the cultural challenges unfold before us in the news and social media I keep thinking of Jesus’ words to the hypocrites of his day. I’m sure they thought they were David, and yet Jesus calls them Goliath.
Don’t lose your head.
Don’t neglect the weightier matters of the law.
Weightier matters. What an interesting thought. Jesus says justice is weightier than tithing. Listen, I’m a preacher and we take up offerings every week, but I don’t want to lose my head. I wonder what would happen if we printed out all the sermons preached around the country on tithing and put them on one side of a scale. And then we printed out all the sermons preached on justice and placed them on the other side of the scale. Which pile would be weightier?
Which brings me to college campuses around our nation. Let there be justice.
What is justice? It is the equitable application of God’s moral law in society. Dr. King would write from a Birmingham jail that a just law is a law that squares with God’s law. If he is right, there is no true justice without the true Judge. Which means, of all the people on planet earth, those who claim to know the Judge should be the very most vocal about justice.
And herein lies our problem. When the people who should influence the conversation do not influence the conversation, we leave a vacuum. When the people who should address injustice do not address injustice, justice becomes a moving target. Our protagonist David had a son named Absalom (2 Samuel 13-20). He turned out to be wicked, but I’m not so sure he started out as twisted as we might assume. His treachery begins when his sister is raped, and then subsequently disgraced. For reasons we cannot explain, King David does nothing to address the tragedy. He loses his head. Failed justice embitters Absalom’s soul and turns his heart sour. The story ends with tragedy and unnecessary bloodshed. But the point is this: in the presence of failed justice and unresolved bitterness, hearts become poisoned. Absalom would not sit by and do nothing.
But a bitter activist is a bad answer to a justice problem.
Which is why I am praying that the people of Jesus will listen to Jesus and learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression. (Isaiah 1:17). Hey Goliath, don’t lose your head. Black lives matter. Justice is at the top of God’s agenda. And maybe we will hear what the Spirit is saying to the church in these days.
Things always go south when we neglect the weightier matters of the law.
Our world needs activists – but not like Absalom. I think about men like John Perkins (who will be with us the final weekend of January). He is an activist, but he found the way to beat bitterness. He has washed the feet of a nation and turned the hearts of multitudes by doing what ordinary people would not: finding a way to truly hate the injustice – and fight the injustice – without allowing the injustice to sour him. I want to follow him.
It’s justice and mercy and faithfulness.
Just like the Cross. At the center of the Gospel is this breathtaking truth: the ultimate Judge was judged in my place. Justice was served and mercy prevailed as the faithfulness of God was poured out on a Goliath like me. Selah.