Justice For All
Based on Proverbs 22, Psalm 125, James 2:1-9, 12-17, Mark 7:24-37
Does anyone here know the name of the person credited with writing the original version of the United States’ Pledge of Allegiance? Extra credit will be given if you can also name the year of the original publication? Turns out the correct answer is Francis Bellamy, a one-time Baptist minister and activist in the Christian Socialist movement. In the course of his duties as an associate editor for a publication called the “Youth’s Companion”, which was promoting the selling of American flags to all the schools in America, he wrote the original pledge. It’s wording is as follows: “I pledge my allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. This version was published in the youth journal in 1892 in honor of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of this continent by Christopher Columbus. Later revisions would change “my flag” to “the flag of the United States of America” and during President Eisenhower’s administration add “under God” as well. While the pledge was recited in its many forms over many decades, it wasn’t until Congress acted in 1942 to make it part of the Federal Flag Code that it became the official pledge of the United States.
It is not surprising that Bellamy would champion the cause for liberty and justice for all. He was the founding vice president of the “Society of Christian Socialists”, and as such he believed both in the rights of working people and for the equitable redistribution of wealth, which he believed were core teachings of Jesus. He was forced from his pulpit in Boston for preaching against the evils of unrestrained capitalism and his tendency to describe Jesus as a socialist. This was understandably a challenging position to take in an economy that was still recovering from a Civil War and that had come through a recession – and because some titans of the new industrial revolution were powerful figures in his congregation and in the greater community.
Our scriptures for today speak to us about God’s plan of equitable justice for all. The Psalmist and writers of Proverbs remind us that God is the final judge, the deliverer of righteousness and truth, and the creator of all things. Jesus is traveling in the Gentile areas of Palestine and healing those who are not Jewish – being just to all of God’s created. The writer of the letter of James is highlighting how we humans are often not just to each other and the ways we might act differently. Before we go farther, let us go to God thanking God that every time we say our flag pledge we are promising to seek justice for all…
Proverbs is a collection of wisdom writings and it is quite interesting to read. The first nine chapters deal with Lady Wisdom and how it is that she continually seeks us out. The rest of Proverbs is a series of wisdom teachings that still resonate today. In our selection of verses, we are reminded that no matter what age, station or other differentiating factor society places on us, we are all equally made and gifted by God. We are called to be generous and to not sow injustice. We are also reminded to apply these teachings to our everyday lives so that we might live pleasantly in God’s world.
The letter of James condemns our behavior towards others based on how they look, because by so doing we become judges with evil thoughts. James reminds us of how Jesus was poor and hung out with poor and marginalized persons saying, “…Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?…” He also states quite plainly that judgment will be without mercy for those who show no mercy; “mercy triumphs over judgment”. Like last week, the writer ends by noting that “…faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead….”
Jesus is traveling in the non-Jewish parts of greater Palestine in today’s reading. He is trying to get some time away, but those in need keep discovering him. First is a Gentile woman who pleads her case for exorcising her daughter. She debates Jesus and gets him to change his mind about who he is called to cure. Secondly, there is a man who is deaf and dumb who Jesus heals. He cautions the man to say nothing, but that does not work. Jesus has shown the Disciples that in God’s kingdom there is justice for all.
The readings for this week (and events in the news feed) should have you questioning whether we live in a community, a Country or a world where there can ever be justice for all. Afterall the Bible, from beginning to end, is focused on teaching us to live in ways that are more humble, kind, merciful and just. The Bible would not spend so much time on those subjects if it weren’t for the reality that humans often act in ways that are egomaniacal, unkind, unmerciful and unjust. The writer of the Epistle of James gives us the perfect vignette of how humans often act in social gatherings. The writer makes the story even more pointed by having it play out in a worship service!
However, it’s not only in our churches where we see the need for justice for all. Many of us have spent much time in the last 15 months on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) programs in our work environments. Jesus is right there in the discomfort of these discussions and revelations about how unjust and unwelcoming (sometimes oppressive) are our work environments. Where are we promoting, accepting or turning a blind eye, to the policies and procedures that embed injustice, inequity, lack of diversity and exclusion at work and in the society around us? This is what our Gospel reading is asking us today. The Gentile woman needs the healing power of Jesus to rid the evil that oppresses her daughter. She would normally be excluded from interacting with Jesus due to her gender and non-Jewish status. Jesus seems to be laboring under the need to be exclusively at work with and for the Jews. She points our truthfully that even though the children deserve the best, the family pet is allowed to be under the table gleaning what falls. Jesus shows us once again that justice for all means that no one is excluded from the grace of God which falls unconditionally and equitably on all of creation.
Justice for all is a work in progress – and it will always be something with which humans struggle, here in America and around the world. Growing into ever more faithful disciples of Jesus the Christ means that we are constantly seeking to put our gifts to work with God to eliminate human created exclusion, oppression and injustice. How will you use your gifts to break down the human erected barriers to justice for all, so that you can live fully into the Pledge of Allegiance and into your discipleship? May the grace of God and the power of the living Word guide you in your discernment and putting your faith to work! Amen.