Ancient Roots of a Modern Imperative
Sometimes I hear people speak disapprovingly about the actions and dreams of those who work for social justice. The “harrumphs” are loudest about those still living and active. Once the activist is no longer living and doing disturbing things, he or she is not such a threat and some of what was done begins to seem self-evidently correct. People like Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind as examples of people whose work today is praised but during their lifetimes was often criticized and/or condemned.
The reading from Isaiah today reminded me that social justice is not a new concept or dream. Even in ancient Israel, the prophet had to remind the people that the one who comes from the Lord and upon whom the spirit of the Lord rests will be concerned with justice for the poor.
“… a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.
Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (Isaiah 11:1-6)
The reading goes on to describe what has been called “the peaceable kingdom” where the wolf is a guest of the lamb and a child leads a calf and a young lion who graze together. The entire picture of this wonderful time and place of peace hinges on the justice brought by this shoot from Jesse’s stump. Once justice for the poor and faithfulness are the norm for the world’s societies, “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; … There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
The struggle for social justice, a struggle/imperative which continues today, does indeed have ancient roots!