Weekly Bible Devotional
“Draw Near to Justice”
December 13, 2020
Scripture for Sunday: Luke 3:7-15
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Notes on the Text:
We continue to look at John the Baptist and his ministry for inspiration. John saw a world rife with injustice and corruption because people were not following God’s commands and rules. He was born into the household of a priest, yet he saw the Temple in Jerusalem as the epitome of evil and corruption because the leadership there was cooperating with the Roman Empire, the occupiers of the land at the time. As a result, John set out to draw near to justice and to help others do the same. He joined a movement of reform in the wilderness. The wilderness had a special appeal to him because it was a place where people could go back to the original ways of justice which God gave to the people of ancient Israel when they left Egypt.
John set out to reform his religion and his country through inviting people to draw near to the suffering of others. John had specific suggestions for how to draw near. First step is about being compassionate and caring about the poor (share coats, share food). The second step is to be ethical and just in their daily dealings (don’t collect more money than prescribed). The third step is not to lust for wealth. John knew that drawing near to justice had to begin on the ground level of daily life. What John is interested in is justice and equality, practically acted out. It is also interesting to note that the people who asked John for his guidance were not well-known for their high moral standards. Tax collectors were Jews appointed by Rome to collect the taxes, but they could name their own price, pay the taxes out of what they had collected and legally keep the remainder for themselves. It was rare in those days to hear of an honest tax collector. Soldiers also used their position to intimidate people and to accept bribes. Both professions provided an ideal way to become wealthy at the expense of the people. Even those people who seemed hopeless because they lived by the corrupt standards of greed and empire, the good news reached them and transformed them to people who were caring and compassionate.
We focus this week on drawing close to God by drawing near to Justice. One quote that came to mind about justice this week is from Reinhold Niebuhr, “Love is the motive. Justice is the instrument.” This Sunday is when we also focus on joy. I believe that there is a deep connection between justice and joy. When we practice God’s justice, we find a deep connection to joy.
This is such an incredible message of hope and joy for us today. Our drawing close to justice does not have to start with changing the laws. It starts with small communities drawing near to the pain of others and looking out for others. We know from this pandemic and the racial injustices in our country that it is so important for us to draw near to the pain of those who are suffering. It is not enough to know the statistics or the facts, we have to know the people and see them as our kin. In the coming of Jesus, we know that God came in the flesh into the realities of our pain. We have to do the same. Christmas is about entering in the flesh into these realities. Think about your social circles and daily activities. How do they help or hinder you when it comes to this kind of drawing near to the suffering of others?
From the Artist: Lisa Gwynn Garrity
John the Baptist cries out from the wilderness, willed by the vision of a world where the crooked will be made straight and the rough places made smooth. In this passage, we see how the poetry of this vision translates into the practical. Crowds, compelled by John’s message, gather around him. I imagine his passion spewing out of him in a frenzy of inflammatory statements and doomsday predictions, his words strategically designed to stir the heart and incite action. “What then must we do?” Different groups step forward, eager and yet afraid of what this new way of life might require. John’s responses are particular. There is no one-size-fits-all to justice-making. Each group must resist the ways they are tempted to perpetuate systems of inequity. Soldiers must
resist ruling with intimidation and threats, preying upon the poor. Tax collectors must resist embezzling funds. Those with more than enough must resist hoarding their resources. Bearing good fruit requires pruning one’s life of power, wealth, and resources acquired at the expense of others. When I read this text, I visualized the act of both giving up and receiving, for when we let loose of that which binds us to systems of power and oppression, we allow space for others to thrive. We fear that letting go will lead to scarcity. Instead, God promises a restored earth, one where all are fed, all are made well. The mountains will fall and the valleys will rise up—then and only then shall all the ends of the earth truly know what the salvation of God feels like.
Prayer by Desmond Tutu:
Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
In the name of the One who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow. Amen.