A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.
A conversation with JORDAN PYLE and COLIN MACINTYRE
COLIN: Let’s do it. How do you see Justice?
JORDAN: The prevailing concept of Justice in the world today is repaying pain for pain. People often talk about the “Justice of God” in the hopes that God will somehow hurt the people who hurt them.
When Jesus showed up, the Jewish religious leaders had a very strong sense of this kind of justice. They were waiting for the Messiah to come and bring the pain to those who had conquered and oppressed them.
Yet Jesus revealed something about the Justice of God they did not understand, and which even many Christians today do not understand.
COLIN: Yes, I appreciate how one apostle and teacher, Jonathan Welton, explains it, that when a country wins its independence, or otherwise comes under the rule of another power, the judicial system also changes. In the same way, biblically speaking, as soon as a new covenant is made, all is subject to change — even the definitions of words! Under Moses, justice doled out blessing and curses depending on how one kept the Law. But under Jesus — “worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder has more honor than the house” —the anchor of justice was embedded in God’s destiny and purpose for every human being.
So, under the old, justice was based on what you did. But in the new, justice is only satisfied when you are walking in who you are.
JORDAN: New Covenant justice is not punishment. It does not mean releasing pain and shame over people who have made mistakes. God’s sense of justice means restoration, healing and transformation.
COLIN: Absolutely. So Jennifer Toledo is a lady who’s finger is really on the pulse of humanitarian justice. In fact, she’s the founder of this thing called The Justice Group. I really like how she put it:
JORDAN: This is what angered the Jewish leaders so badly. They wanted a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans, punish the “bad people” in society, but hang out with them exclusively, and tell them how good they were.
Sadly, many Christians today talk this way.
But that is not what happened.
Jesus brought justice to the “bad” in society by healing and restoring them. He never hurt, and never punished them — even when asked.
Our sense of Justice defines our message. The cross is our greatest demonstration, yet many of us have made it about the punishment of Jesus in place of humanity, instead of Jesus’ desire to restore humanity.
Truthfully, many of us are not interested in the restoration of people we do not like. We are more interested in their punishment. We prophesy and predict their misfortune and destruction, and wonder why people do not feel loved by us. Why there is no interest in the Jesus we “serve.”
Too often, the conclusion is that they are too lost, too sinful, too bad, or whatever other label frees us from the responsibility of dealing with them as people of value.
COLIN: That is tragic, but, to tell you the truth, it is something many of us have had to process through as we groped our way out of the judicial gospel wineskin of our young-and-zealous days, and into the curative new wine flowing from Jesus.
But let’s talk about the role unforgiveness plays in our thinking about justice. I recently heard a very good teacher, Katia Adams, talk about this. She said,
Judgment goes hand in hand with unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is essentially legalism toward other people — that they should receive their just reward for hurting you.
The problem is, insisting that someone else receive justice is demanding that they live in the realm of the Law. Law is a system based entirely on justice. The problem with insisting that someone else live in the realm of Justice and Law is that it sucks you into the realm of Justice and Law . But you cannot live in two realms at the same time. [As a Christian,] you cannot live in the realm of Grace while insisting that others live in the realm of the Law.
The enemy loves this. Unforgiveness is one of his pet joys. The enemy loves Law because the Law is a place where we ourselves stand open to accusation. And he is the ultimate accuser. He loves to tempt us into unforgiveness. He loves to lead us there, because he knows that as we walk in unforgiveness, we end up walking in the realm of Law, and then we put ourselves in a place to heed all of his accusations against us.
These two realms of justice are almost like an updated version of Joshua’s “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
JORDAN: It’s the whole point of Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant. The one who was forgiven ten thousand immediately drags his friend into Old Covenant Justice for a few bucks.
COLIN: I believe there was a time when Jesus himself may have had to wrestle with these competing philosophies of justice.
After John the Baptist was beheaded, and his disciples came and removed his body and placed it in a tomb, they came to Jesus and told him what happened. The gospels say that Jesus then went out on a boat, alone, to a remote place. I imagine he wanted nothing more than to talk with His Father. It’s almost as if Jesus needed space to grieve.
What we sometimes don’t realize is that that beloved “locust and wild honey” prophet had been one of the very few still living who really understood who Jesus was. In a way, John was a spiritual elder brother, his own hand having baptized the Nazarene into His ministry and calling. Up to that point, John had also been the only other person co-labouring for the Kingdom of God. Based on the way Jesus spoke of him to the Jewish leaders, he was prized, highly. And he was blood kin, the son of His mother’s own cousin.
But now, he was dead, his head cruelly severed and placed on a silver plate through the machinations of a vindictive queen. Who would have faulted Jesus for exacting vengeance on the doers of such a crime? Who would care to stop Him from storming Herod’s palace and, at the very least, upending some tables and cleaning house?
Yet, when Jesus stepped ashore again, there was something very different on His mind.
The Bible says that when Jesus saw the crowds, “He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.” Immediately, He began to minister like never before, “teaching… and preaching the good news of the kingdom” — renewing the people’s minds against every device of the enemy. Another gospel records, in furious language, how He set about “healing every kind of disease and every sickness among the people” — ensuring that no one else — no one — had to go through losing a daughter, a brother, a mother, father or a cousin as He had. It was the most epic justice possible, the kind that Creation had been waiting for since YHWH spoke to the serpent in the garden one fateful day. Truly, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.
COLIN: I have a friend, Kevin May, who has a lot of experience working with aboriginal tribes. He describes that these cultures generally have a very different concept of justice than what we are used to in the Western world.
[A person’s wrongdoing] is going to have the whole tribe involved since they believe the peace of the entire group has been impacted. In most tribes it will be of the restorative type. It will involve restitution. Elders will apply the judgement and process for restoration and restitution and the tribe will honor it because the elders really listen to the heart of the people. The idea is to not just restore and make whole the parties, but to also make whole the community.
Within both African and North American tribes there are of course nations who are more violent, retributive and harsher, but generally the elder and communal principles are quite consistent.
I remember reading about one African tribesman who, after listening to the judgment of a European fellow, was left completely incredulous. What? You want to lock this fellow up? How will he pay back the widow for killing her husband? How will he support her and the children for the rest of his life since their father is gone?
JORDAN: I think also what we need to understand is that, for many, many people, sin is it’s own punishment. We look at someone who does terrible things — a rapist, a murderer, etc. — and think, they must be punished. Yet we fail to recognize that no punishment could be worse than what has already happened to them. Their identity has been perverted, their calling stolen — twisted into something horrible.
We say things like, “They deserve to be…” when the truth is, Jesus died for them. Because of that one fact, we must believe that people deserve restoration. People deserve to be delivered.
COLIN: And here is a secret that Jesus knew: in mercy, lavishing Peter with fish and honouring Zaccheus saw both of them leave their broken lifestyles behind. Despite Peter’s betrayal, and Zaccheus’ theft, Jesus “failed” to see the need to confront them with the guilt of their crimes. But what if where they were at was already its own peculiar level of hell?
I remember back when my daughter was a little under two years old, I was taking care of her while my wife was away. I spent maybe half an hour making this baby food — homemade. Very proud of myself, I put it into a bowl, even remembering to check the temperature, and brought it into the dining room where Dahlia was sitting patiently in her high chair. With what I can only describe as a sort of flourish, I put the baby spoon in, brought it up to her mouth —
And that’s the last bite she ever took. I cajoled, I pleaded, I sang songs, did the airplane thing —nada. She wouldn’t eat any more no matter what. I started to get a little frustrated, didn’t she know how hard I had worked on this? Ungrateful!
Well, after a few moments of consternation, “world’s greatest Dad” that I am, I made the brilliant decision to make her eat it. Unsurprisingly, she fought and complained, and precious little made it in, the majority sliding down her chin, but I was like, you are going to eat this young lady. At that point she really started to cry, and I was thinking to myself, I am going to sit here all day if that’s what it takes — when suddenly a “little bird” whispered something in my ear.
Putting the spoon and bowl on the table, I carefully reached over.
“Dahlia, open your mouth? Let Daddy see?”
She did, and there I saw them. Little white bumps poking out of raw, red gums.
This might seem weird, but I remember sitting back, and in that moment realizing disobedience, sin, at its core is not really law-breaking. It is different, it goes much deeper than that. Sure, was eating time, but Dahlia didn’t need a judge at that moment. The world doesn’t need another judge. What it needs is a Physician. And it’s got to have the Physician’s sons being physicians.
JORDAN: That’s why I believe “the wages of sin is death” isn’t because God will blast you in righteous indignation if you don’t repent, but because your current situation is a sickness that is already in the process of destroying you.
The criminal does not deserve to have his or her life stripped away from them and left alone in pain and isolation —
COLIN: The thieves on the cross —
JORDAN: Yes! They deserve to be restored to a place where they would never again harm or abuse. Who is to say that, if recovered, they might not become one of the greatest sources of love and healing the world has ever seen?
I understand that we may have to remove people from open society while they work some stuff out. But the goal needs to be their restoration, not their punishment.
People have wronged us, our family, or the society we live in, absolutely. But think again about your attitude toward them. Would you honestly love to see them burn in hell? Wouldn’t you want to see them restored? Didn’t Gandhi say, An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind?
COLIN: It is something we need to reconsider. Even in the middle of our deepest place of wounding, it is possible to move out of an old sense of justice and into the new. Katia Adams has great advice:
In the midst of opposition, do a regular check on your heart. Check for judgments. Check for inner vows, where you have said, “I’ll never be like X.” Check for unforgiveness. This is not meant to be heavy. It’s not something we should feel bad about. We are on a journey! It is something we should know, so that we can walk away from it and into freedom.
Jordan Pyle is a teacher and entrepreneur. Colin MacIntyre is also a teacher and entrepreneur. They currently live in Asia and are devoted to empowering and equipping people from many ethnic backgrounds.