Justified for Justice


Luke 18:13 (used for contemplative prayer in Eastern church)
Do people change? Can they change? Is it possible to go from being all about me and ignoring others and their plight and their needs to being the opposite, changed to someone humble, compassionate and just?
We live in a world that seems to dismiss the possibility of true, real transformation and heart-change. But we follow a way, Christ's way, that preaches that transformation, a heart-change indeed is possible. Not only that, it is inevitable. And how our world needs a heart-change!
This morning’s story from Luke 18 gives us an example of transformation, a transformation that takes someone from the chief of the lowly and unjust to someone justified and lifted up.
The word justified is especially pertinent. It is certainly a word maybe like me you heard a lot growing up in church. Justify, justified, justification, these are words that are firmly a part of the Christian theological lexicon. To be honest, I haven't thought a great deal about these words in a while. But it's a good idea to take a relook at things in life and to even rethink them. That’s how good things often happen. The lectionary reading from the gospel of Luke has given me the chance to do just that, to give a relook at the word and idea of justify or justification.
Our reading from Luke 18 ends with Jesus basically saying that the lowly tax collector, because of his sincere show of humility, is justified.
Some might see, and many do see, the term justified and believe it is just another synonym for the word saved. Justified in this view is the same as being saved. In some ways, this is true. But it is much more nuanced than that.
The word in the original Greek is dikaioo. It is quite a rich and complex word. As the English translation of dikaioo indicates, the idea of “just” as in justice is related.
The word justify literally means to be made just. Dikaioo can also be translated as to be rendered righteous. Dikaioo we might say means to en-righteous someone, as in deeming them upright.
Anyway, if I justify you, I declare you as just or righteous. Or put another way, if I justify you, I declare you as just and oriented toward justice. If I en-righteous you, I declare you as righteous and oriented toward doing the right thing.
If God is doing this justifying, this making just, this en-righteousing , then we are talking big stuff as in eternal stuff. And that's what we have in Luke 18. Christ justifies, makes just, en-righteouses, of all people, a tax collector.
Remember, a tax collector in many ways is the chief among the unrighteous in his society. Tax collectors are in a category all their own when it comes to the unrighteous. They were seen as traitors against Israel because they worked for Rome which occupied and oppressed Israel. They collected taxes from their own people, and skimmed some off the top as their form of pay. 

So, justifying, declaring a tax collector righteous and just means a whole lot of grace going on. To en-righteous, to make upright a lowly tax collector, and to at the same time degrade a religious leader, which a pharisee was, was truly a radical thing to do. But God's grace is a radical thing, a radical gift that keeps giving.
Now there is another side to this radical act of grace-moved justifying. Not only is the tax collector made just and righteous in God's eyes, the transformation that naturally comes from this influences a new orientation, a reorientation, a new way of being in the world. Being justified means being made just in God's eyes, yes. But it also means being reoriented towards justice in the world. To be justified, we are turned and reoriented toward justice. When we are truly made just and righteous, our eyes are open to better see injustice and the need for justice.
When it comes to the tax collector, if he is made just in God's eyes only to keep on as a henchman for Rome, the justifying would be contradicted. Being made just means a transformation both inside us but also in how we see and act in the world. The presumption in the text is that the tax collector is made just, and his life is changed.  The presumption is that because of his transformation, he goes and is unjust no more, no longer unjustly robbing from the poor to give it to the rich in Rome.
All that said, we cannot fail to realize what moves Christ to justify the tax collector. It was the tax collectors humbling of himself. It takes a transformative humility to do what the tax collector did to admit he was wrong with no excuses or equivocation and to cry out for mercy. I love the phrase in verse 13, he would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he cried with his whole body. Have you ever cried so hard that you are brought to your knees and cannot help but to Pound your chest so that it keeps beating amid your heartbreak? That's the picture in Luke 18. The tax collector is a picture of transformative humility and a life changing brokenness. Such humility gives way to God's grace, With God saying it's alright it's alright. And this all rightness this justifying turns our eyes toward justice and righteousness.
We hear a lot about justice in the UCC. It's preached about often. I've been known to preach about justice, in fact. But seeking justice, being oriented towards justice, is part of a process according to Jesus. It begins with humility, transformative humility, and with internalizing God’s love.
There is a spiritual transformation involved in being made just or being oriented toward justice. It is God who opens our eyes to the world and the needs in the world, the needs for justice and peace and inclusion. It is God who makes us just. It is God who en-righteouses and enlightens us. We need to be humble enough to let go of our ways and allow God’s ways to work through us. We need humility, a falling to our knees knowing we cannot do it alone. We need humility so that God can work his mercy in us.
Preaching humility, a letting go of self, in other words, is just as important as preaching justice. For they go hand in hand. If we want to change the world, we need humility to know we cannot do it with God’s love infused in us just as much as we need insight into the injustices in the world and the ambition to create a just world.
I close with a verse from the Hebrew Scripture, one that Jesus surely knew. It was a favorite then and remains so now. It comes from the book of Micah, chapter 6:
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with a [perfect offering,
    a perfect sacrifice, a perfect word of praise
and a perfect song worship, a perfect life?]
He has told you, O humanity , what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

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