Where (Social) Justice Ends, Love Begins

Social justice seems to be a popular topic on college campuses, especially christian colleges. For example, we had a speaker yesterday in chapel address the topic of justice. However, maybe we should spend some time reflecting on just exactly what we mean by social justice or simply justice in general. When social justice is brought up, the discussion usually revolves around the prophets and Jesus. I have been a fan of the social justice movement for some time. But then something struck me about the whole thing.

The Old Testament law is solely concerned with justice. We hear about an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. It’s about making things right by equalizing each side. Justice is the very thing that drives the prophets to do the most absurd things to get people to pay attention. On the other side of the discussion, Jesus is brought into the equation. Here, we see the Social Gospel come into play. Jesus is concerned not only with the after life, but also with redeeming all creation here on earth. The more that I’ve wrestled with these two perspectives the more that I see a major flaw, namely, that Jesus’ ministry was not built on justice but on love. Justice always satisfies the wrong that was done. Love does that and more. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus quotes the eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth passage and then says:

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-42)

This is not justice my friends. This is love because love always goes beyond the call of duty. Justice simply fulfills the call of duty. As you start reading the gospels more, you see that Jesus is not motivated by being just to everybody he encounters, but rather, is directed by love. The adulterous in John 8 deserved stoning and it would be just; love would have none of that. Justice would be condemning the woman at the well. Love would have none of that. Justice would have Jesus betraying Peter because Peter betrayed him. Love would have none of that. Justice would have a street fight break out in the garden of Gethsemane. Love would put the ear back on Malchus. Justice would condemn Mary for wasting a jar of perfume to wipe Jesus’ feet. Love would have none of that.

Maybe this is all why Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill. Not because he was going to follow all the rules down to a T. But because as the apostle Paul reminds, there is no law against love because love fulfills the law. So essentially, Jesus was fulfilling the law, not by doing justice, but by transcending the law itself by love. I think John Caputo sums it up well:

The only measure of love is love without measure. Love is not measured by a rule, but rather love expends itself without return on behalf of the other. Love will stop at nothing, which is the excess that is ingredient in love.

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