There is “retributive justice,” that uses violence to punish. And there is “restorative justice,” that seeks to heal brokenness and make things right. Within the Bible, there is a tension between these types of justice. John 2:13-22 is regularly interpreted by many as seeing Jesus bringing violence into the temples, because he makes a “whip of cords,” driving out the animals and the money changers. The text is read as authorizing wrathful violence in the name of God, a criticism given to many community advocates for social justice today.

I see Jesus disrupting a wicked system, because God desires us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” When we look at Micah 6:6-8, the prophet is asking, “What does God want?” The Lord wants us to practice a healing justice, to love a mercy that makes things right, and a walk with God that is not in destructive rivalry with others.

Jesus brought a temporary halt to a profitable religious enterprise that extracted wealth from the marginalized and needlessly butchered many animals. The action was not “nice,” but a dramatic demonstration, exposing an evil system. And it was so powerful that the authorities sought to punish Jesus through torture and execution on the cross. They saw Jesus performing a crime.

What does God desire? Our complicity in this unjust system? No! God wants us to interrupt this pattern and work towards what actually heals victims and transforms communities. Let’s neither reduce Jesus to being “nice” nor create him in the image of a holy warrior. Let us recognize the work of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, when Jesus rises up in defense of those on the margins.

Lord Jesus, on the cross you reveal our human need to violently punish and Abba’s desire to mend the world. Renew our minds so that we do not conform to the world’s kind of justice, but yours. Amen

Have you ever been “judged” by others, or “punished” by someone for doing wrong? Have you ever been exposed for your own wrongdoing and felt guilt?  Have you ever been judged wrongly? We can all ponder those experiences. We all make mistakes. We have all known punishment, deserved and undeserved. Meditate.

Have you ever been stopped by the police?  Were you frisked, forcefully arrested, or taken to jail? Did you ever have a lawyer, go to trial, or be convicted of a crime? Have you ever experienced prison? Most of us lack these experiences. We might even be privileged enough to only have a traffic stop where our privilege allowed a fine to protect our freedom. Others lack that privilege, are treated as guilty until proven innocent, and even then, are denied any privilege restoration. Meditate.

Part of our sinfulness is that we place a financial value on justice. We separate humankind into groups.  We daily judge others, stealing God’s throne of law and judgement, and divide God’s offspring into “good and deserving favor” or “bad and undeserving.”  In fear or pride we separate ourselves from “those” people, and support detaining them and punishing them and sometimes killing them.  Jesus was one of “them”.  But Jesus is one of “US”.  Meditate.

Lord save us all from the death and separation which come from your judgement and ours.  Unite all people and teach us to overcome our own temptations toward separation and judgement.  We pray as your children, in the name of Jesus. Amen