Practicing the better: Liberty and justice for all

May 9th, 2018

The Covenant frees us to live as God intends, and it shows us that one of the first movements in our freedom is working for justice. We have captured this dynamic in one of our national mantras — the Pledge of Allegiance — in the phrase, “with liberty and justice for all.” The phrase follows the Covenant flow.

We cannot claim to be liberated if the desire to see everyone else freed is not in us. There is nothing in the spiritual life more counterfeit and egregious than to claim something for ourselves while denying it to others. A spirituality and/or religion which perpetuates and justifies a “my, me, mine” view of life is putrid in God’s nostrils. Jesus taught this clearly in the parable of the Good Samaritan, whose othering (compassionate caregiving) stood in stark contrast to the self-interest of the priest and Levite.

Liberty is verified by justice. Brueggemann emphasizes that the word ‘justice’ goes beyond its judicial and regulatory connotations.* Justice is essentially restorative and born out of the desire to show mercy — in keeping with our recognition that God has dealt with us in restorative and merciful ways. We have received freely, we freely give.

Liberty and justice… for all. The Covenant overturns every notion of in/out thinking which breeds selection and exclusion. It does so when God tells the Israelites that what they do for those whom they know and love best is also to be done to the strangers (Leviticus 19:33, Deuteronomy 10:17-19). Those who are least known by the Jews and most unlike them are to be treated the same ways as they treat themselves.

Covenant upends empires — “the kingdoms of this world,” who write insideous codes and construct elaborate systems for keeping “down and out” any whom they consider to be inferior — almost always including a theological rationale for their injustice. Jesus incarnated Covenant by moving among and befriending those whom the political/religious empire of his day had ignored and persecuted, telling his followers that what they did (or failed to do) for “the least of these,” they did (or failed to do) to him.

Liberty and justice for all. It’s what made the Covenant pervasive and what makes any nation “great.” Liberty and justice for all. It is what inspires and informs the practice of the better.

* Brueggemann unpacks this broader notion of justice in his book, God, Neighbor, Empire.

Steve Harper is the author of For the Sake of the Bride and Five Marks of a Methodist. He blogs at Oboedire.

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