Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Makes A Just Man?

Matthew 1:18-19
"18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly."

The way we often conceive of justice and righteousness in the Bible might cause us to pause at the description of Joseph as he deliberates about arrangements for dealing with his problem. Shouldn't it rather be, "Joseph, being a merciful man..."? Isn't Joseph within his rights to make noise about this? And to be unwilling to do so would not be because he is just, but because he is merciful.

We can tend to think of justice and mercy like oil and water, not exactly opposites, but where one is the other must give way. Or we think of them as credits and debits where a credit may be extended but the balance will come due at some letter point, in someone's account. A quick google search on the subject yields many results where this antithetical understanding of justice and mercy are described.

But is that the picture we get from the Bible? Are justice and mercy a yin and yang that must be balanced? Or are they related in some other way?

Here are a selection of verses to ponder on this subject.  And for ourselves, what makes us those who would be characterized as "just"?

Job 37:23
The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.

Psalm 33:5
The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

Psalm 36:6
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.

Psalm 71:2
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me, and save me!

Psalm 72:2-3
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!

Psalm 89:14
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 112:9
He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn is exalted in honor.

Psalm 143:1, 11
A Psalm of David.
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!

For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!

Isaiah 1:17
Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 30:18
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Zechariah 7:9
"This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.