Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Some More from "Generous Justice"

Okay, here are a few more thoughts to follow up my previous blog post.

"Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke concludes, after studying both the word justice and its kindred word righteousness, that in the Old Testament, 'the righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.'

Therefore, just men and women see their money as belonging in some ways to the entire human community around them, while the unjust or unrighteous see their money as strictly their's and no one else's. After all, they earned it, and that's the main reason they have it. That view of life is naive, as we have seen, and it collides head-on with the Bible. So in Deuteronomy 24 we read:

"14 "Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in your towns. 17 True justice must be given to foreigners living among you and to orphans, and you must never accept a widow's garment as security for her debt. 19 When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don't go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all you do."

The reference to the harvest was an exhortation to landowners to allow the poor to 'glean.' If we read this text closely, we see that part of the landowner's harvest was 'for' the immigrant and poor. That means that in God's eyes, it was actually theirs. We should be careful not to think this means that the land belonged to the poor - it belonged ultimately to God and provisionally to the landowner. In God's view, however, while the poor did not have a right to the ownership of the farmer's land, they had a right to some of its produce. If the owner did not limit his profits and provide the poor with an opportunity to work for their own benefit in the fields, he did not simply deprive the poor of charity but of justice, of their right. Why? A lack of generosity refuses to acknowledge that your assets are not really yours, but God's.

Here is another example. Think of the millions of children and teenagers in this country who have grown up in poverty. They attend failing schools and live in an environment unconducive to reading and learning. By the time they are in their teens many of them are functionally illiterate. This locks them into poverty or worse. It is estimated that a majority of convicts in prison are illiterate. Who is to blame?

Conservatives may argue that this is the parent's fault. It is due to a failure of moral character and the breakdown of the family. Liberals, however, see it as a failure of government to stem systemic racism and to change unjust social structure. But nobody says that it is the children's fault they were born where they were. Those children are in poverty largely because they were not born into a family like mine. My three sons, just by being born where they were, have a far better chance to have flourishing, happy life in society. There is an inequitable distribution of both goods and opportunities in this world. Therefore, if you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don't share them with others, it isn't just stinginess, it is injustice."

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