The Living Water of Justice
When the COVID pandemic began, my wife and I took up daily walks in the park to keep us sane from being locked down at home and from the exhausting schedule of Zoom meetings. One day we saw a young White man riding his bike towards us. As he passed by, he swerved at us and said loudly, “I am a mask police, making sure you are wearing your masks and not spreading china virus.” A few days later we saw him again. This time as he rode by, he breathed on my wife, saying, “Take this china virus.” A couple of weeks later he was out again: As he rode by, he made a quick swerve towards me, as if to run me over. Then he stopped ahead of us and stared at us as if waiting for us. We had to change course to avoid him. This experience of xenophobic hatred was stressful and has made us more anxious and cautious during our daily walks.
Since March, over 2,500 incidents of hate crimes against Asians have been reported. I think of the 89 year-old Chinese woman assaulted and set on fire by two men in Brooklyn, the 52 year-old Asian woman beaten by teenage girls on a Bronx bus, the 49 year-old Asian man attacked from behind by a teen in Harlem, the Asian family whose two-year old and four-year old children and their parent were stabbed by a man in Texas, and on and on. Who knows how many more have gone unreported?
2020 has been a year of pandemics—along with COVID-19, of unemployment and homelessness, of racial violence and police brutalities against Black and Brown bodies, of racism and bigotry. I think of George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, and on and on. Loving the neighbor as oneself and respecting the dignity of every human being no longer seem to be shared values, even among Christians. Black lives and the lives of other people of color seem not to matter as much as White lives. But a nation built on division and hatred will not be sustainable and will eventually fall apart. The recovery of racial justice as a shared value is an urgently important task before us—and the church, I believe, should be leading this work. How can racial justice not be integral to everything the church does?
“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Justice flows from God’s prophetic word like the ever-flowing, unstoppable stream. Justice is God’s prophetic vision for his people—it is God’s covenant with his people and, thus, God’s way of life for them. Justice has the power to cleanse and renew people’s lives from sin and evil just as water cleanses and renews life. It is the living water of life and the source of new life, as water gives life. Without justice, there is no kingdom of God. Without justice, there is no life.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Justice is Jesus’ vision of God’s kingdom. Justice is the Good News of Jesus Christ. Justice is the Way of Jesus that leads to the beloved community. True faith begins with handing ourselves, our souls and bodies, over to the crucified Christ just as Jesus handed himself over to God on the cross. We cannot talk about faith without talking about sacrificial love, for justice is the sacrificial love of Jesus; Justice is the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ; Justice is Jesus.
Like the prophets in the Bible, justice begins with speaking forth the truth of injustice. Racial justice begins with speaking forth the truth about systemic racism, rooted in the destructive ideology of White supremacy. As Jesus says in the Beatitudes, justice is holy work, blessed by God. God desires to make visible those who are made invisible by the society in which they live. God desires to bring to the center of life those who are marginalized by the society. God desires healing for those who suffer from violence. God desires to lift up the lowly whose souls will magnify his holy name. Racial justice is God’s work and it is godly work. Racial justice is a labor of sacrificial love and mercy, not of fear and hatred. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22). Are we indeed able to drink the cup Jesus drank without hungering and thirsting for racial justice as church?