Call to Justice

Acts of Justice and Mercy – Moses and the Good Samaritan

By June 11, 2011April 15th, 2014No Comments

Scripture References
Entire book of Exodus with particular emphasis on the following: 1:8-16; 5:1; 6:1; 12:41; Luke 10:25-37

We often find agreement among clergy on one thing: we are called as people of faith to have an impact on society. We settle on this common understanding because our traditions provide ample stories, examples, parables, and commandments that repeatedly express an obligation to ensure God’s love, mercy, and justice. Where confusion often sets in is when we begin to discuss how we are to make an impact. Two well known Bible stories provide insight into the difference between doing justice and loving mercy.

In Luke, Chapter 10 Jesus describes the parable of the Good Samaritan. This story gives us some clues about assisting individuals in need. First, we notice that it is the unlikely Samaritan – not a religious leader – who stops and helps out the beaten man left for dead. Second, we learn the Samaritan does not hesitate and is quite generous toward the man in his time of need. He not only bandages the man’s wounds, but also pays his expenses while he recuperates at a nearby inn.

In the Hebrew Bible, we see a different form of action taken by Moses. In this example, we see extreme hardship placed on an entire nation – not solely an individual. We learn that Pharaoh has turned the Israelites into slave laborers and ordered midwives to kill every male infant at birth. In response, God calls upon another unlikely champion, Moses, to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. We watch Moses powerfully confront Pharaoh, demanding freedom for his people, bringing God’s powers to bear on Pharaoh, and ultimately winning justice for the Hebrew people.

These stories have contrasting elements that are helpful when evaluating the needs of our community today, and the responses we may choose to take. First, Moses does not deal with the individual victims of Pharaoh’s rule – he confronts the perpetrator of the injustice. The Samaritan does not attempt to survey the causes of highway banditry. Instead, he provides much needed immediate relief. Second, the scale of the problem and the ultimate solution in both examples are completely different. The Samaritan limited his work to the beaten man, and simply resolved the problem with good deeds, although the underlying problem of banditry still remains. Moses does not have this luxury because the problem is institutional, and therefore, he is required to take public action to bring about justice. In short, the Samaritan’s action was one of mercy, and Moses’ was an act to secure justice for the many.

This distinction may seem elementary on the surface but is often overlooked within congregational life. A classic contrast can be found in our response to the public education system. The basic ability to read and write has proven to be directly related to one’s quality of life. Yet, public schools throughout the country are failing to produce quality education for all. In the spirit of the Samaritan, the church may decide to respond to this crisis by establishing a tutoring program through the generosity of its members. As a result, twenty-five kids show remarkable improvement in their test scores. Meanwhile, the school system stumbles along and hundreds of other children fail to achieve basic reading and writing abilities. Another church may decide to act similarly to Moses by recognizing the failure of the school system and organize with other congregations to publicly call for needed changes to make all schools more effective. These two responses are clearly different choices.

The choice between justice and mercy can be seen time and time again when looking at various responses to crises in community, no matter what the issue. Housing, healthcare, increased pressures on the family due to rising costs of living, unemployment, access to transportation – all of these can be addressed through mercy and/or justice.

We highlight the distinction to demonstrate the clear differences in types of ministry. We also understand that we are required to do both – to help the victim and fix the system. But DART seeks one thing: to build a vehicle for congregations to come together and to fulfill the requirement to do justice.