On August 28th, 1963 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his renowned, “I Have a Dream Speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The speech included an iconic line that continues to be heard at protests and marches for equality to this day.
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality…No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
This poetic line about the waters of justice and righteousness are found in the Biblical book of Amos. Amos is counted as of one of the 12 minor prophets. Combined, the 12 books of the minor prophets comprise a very small percentage of the Bible. However, their influence far outweighs their size. Multiple times Jesus quotes from various minor prophets and his actions often reflect their values and vision.
What is their shared vision?
A heart dedicated to God. The minor prophets call on the people to focus their priorities, invest their trust, and live fully in the way of God. For the prophets, this call is not an abstraction nor is it a religious platitude. The minor prophets firmly believed that, by the spirit of God, the people of God could walk in the ways of God. For the minor prophets, living in this way often meant doing the work of justice.
Yet, we must ask, what do we mean by justice?
In the scriptures, justice is placed within the context of covenant. The Creator establishes a covenant with creation and through that, all creation is in covenant relationship with one another. Justice, therefore, was simply defined by observing the rules, and maintaining the sacredness of the covenantal relationship. In this way justice does not exist outside of relationship. Although, within the context of relationship, the biblical understanding of justice is less about retribution or distribution. In the prophetic mindset, justice speaks of relationships, interpersonal and societal, that are grounded in caring for one another. Those who live justly are not simply obeying a law, they have internalized the spirit of the law and are living out a deeper and broader connection. As Rabbi Steven S. Schwarzschild puts it, “the substantive view of justice is concerned with the full enhancement of human and, above all, social life…Thus it suffuses all human relations and social institutions.”
The most common word used by the minor prophets for justice is, “mishpat.” At times this word does imply a retributive justice. However, it’s more common usage implies a restorative justice that actively seeks out the oppressed and the wounded and seeks to renew them.
Over the course of this week we will look at specific details of what this justice looks like by diving into the minor prophets (you met a minor prophet last week when Pastor Mary shared about the prophet Jonah). We will be learning from 5 of the 12 minor prophets: Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zephaniah, and Malachi.
In preparation for this week, I highly encourage you to watch the video entitled “Justice” created by The Bible Project. (Click the link below if the video on this page does not play.)
May God bless your eyes with sight, that you may see the divine face in every living being.
May God strengthen your soul with courage, that you may never fear nor reflect the forces of hatred and division.
May God fill your heart with divine love, that you may go forth to do the holy work of peace and reconciliation.
And may the God of neighbor and stranger, the One who was and is and always shall be, be with you and bless you with joy this day. Amen.