John Dominic Crossan on Justice

Cullusaja Falls, NC c. J. Patrick Mahon

Cullusaja Falls, NC
c. J. Patrick Mahon


Dry Falls, NC c. J. Patrick Mahon

Dry Falls, NC
c. J. Patrick Mahon


Yesterday was a beautiful day in many ways. We left early in the morning to drive to Highlands, NC to hear John Dominic Crossan, biblical scholar, preach at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation. The drive from Franklin to Highlands is hairy at best and replete with narrow roadway and sharp curves. We found ourselves well ahead of schedule and the Creator showed us some of the glory of creation. The falls on the Cullasaja River in the national forest opened up to us and we had time to stop and see and hear the falls along the way.

The original Incarnation Church is a national historic monument. The new church was filled to capacity and the ushers had to add a row of folding chairs.

Crossan began by asking himself what one thing he could tell us in a fifteen minute sermon that would summarize the essence of our faith. To my astonishment he selected Psalm 82 and not a New Testament passage:

God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?

 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

He reminded us that this psalm begins with God sitting with the lesser gods who are in charge of the world. God is indicting the lesser gods. Sure looks to me like some of the Canaanite deities worked their way right into David’s psalm. It also reminded me of the pantheon of greater and lesser Greek gods and goddesses.

God is judging the failure of the lesser gods. They are grossly failing to serve the needs of the weak, the poor and the downtrodden. They are to maintain the “right” of the lowly and destitute. This is about justice, not retributive (punishing) justice but distributive justice which demands that all have rightful access to the bounty of creation. My study of things biblical teaches me that justice is all about right order. Every person is created in the image of God and has God-given rights to food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care. However, the “lesser gods” in Washington, DC are quick to ignore the rights of the lowly and destitute. After all, they usually do not vote and do not have their own paid lobbyists.

Crossan also reminded us that there is person justice and systemic justice. Systemic or structural justice demands that societal and political structures assure access of the lowly and destitute to things they rightfully need. Again, this is the countercultural biblical agenda and not the agenda of politicians selected by the rich and powerful. Now even corporations are “people” with all the rights attendant there unto.

Crossan concluded by referring to his school days and the fact that Irish students had to memorize poems. He cited the ending lines to Yeats “Ode to a Grecian Urn”:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

All we need to know as followers of Jesus the Christ is:

Justice is love, love is justice.

Love is the internal component and justice the external expression of love. Justice puts feet on love.

This is ALL we need to know.

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