Compassion: A Fourteen-Day Journey #9


The Socioeconomics of Justice and Righteousness

This is only one of many Old Testament passages calling for the combination of justice and righteousness. Justice makes sense to us, but the concept of righteousness has become so spiritualized that we sometimes find it difficult to grasp. This passage helps clarify for us the connection between these Biblical terms and, more explicitly, economic social issues.
Jeremiah 21:11-12 connects faith and finances; justice and righteousness equate to the rescuing the poor and oppressed who have been robbed and exploited (cf. Jer 22:3). In contrast, injustice and unrighteousness describe the king’s extravagant lifestyle–to reach what he wants, he can’t avoid stepping on others (see Jer 22:13).
But there is also a clear social significance to this pairing of justice and righteousness. The passage draws an interesting connection between the way we deal with the poor and the way God deals with us. We tend to assess ourselves according to the quality of our connections with the rich and powerful, but God judges us specifically by how we relate to the poor and oppressed (see Jer 22:3-5).
The following paragraphs from economist Philip Booth introduce a discussion of Catholic social teaching in the light of economic reasoning. Booth points out the complexities of the issues, cautioning Christians not to oversimplify the dynamic interplay of religion/faith and economic/social policy.

It might be thought that economic considerations should feature only in a minor way in a Christian analysis of policy. Moral, philosophical, or theological considerations may be regarded as paramount. To think this way would be a serious mistake. Some Christians seem to wish to assume away certain economic laws when developing policies in areas such as the minimum wage or the provision of foreign aid. This is as sensible as assuming away the laws of gravity when considering the moral case for punishment by hanging.

We should also be careful before casually using words like “moral” and “just” to describe our favoured political policies. Those words have a powerful meaning and they should not be used without care. This is particularly so in the analysis of economic and political polices requiring compulsory redistribution of income or wealth through taxation. The issues are much more subtle than we think We should also be cautious before we proceed to implement such polices lest we undermine the love and charity present when assistance is provided to those in need through an act of free will, uncoerced by the state.

JER 21:11-14 NKJV

“And concerning the house of the king of Judah, say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord , O house of David! Thus says the Lord : “Execute judgment in the morning; And deliver him who is plundered Out of the hand of the oppressor, Lest My fury go forth like fire And burn so that no one can quench it, Because of the evil of your doings. “Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley, And rock of the plain,” says the Lord , “Who say, ‘Who shall come down against us? Or who shall enter our dwellings?’ But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings,” says the Lord ; “I will kindle a fire in its forest, And it shall devour all things around it.” ’ ”

JER 22:1-30 NKJV

Thus says the Lord : “Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and there speak this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord , O king of Judah, you who sit on the throne of David, you and your servants and your people who enter these gates! Thus says the Lord : “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you indeed do this thing, then shall enter the gates of this house, riding on horses and in chariots, accompanied by servants and people, kings who sit on the throne of David. But if you will not hear these words, I swear by Myself,” says the Lord , “that this house shall become a desolation.” ’ ” For thus says the Lord to the house of the king of Judah: “You are Gilead to Me, The head of Lebanon; Yet I surely will make you a wilderness, Cities which are not inhabited. I will prepare destroyers against you, Everyone with his weapons; They shall cut down your choice cedars And cast them into the fire. And many nations will pass by this city; and everyone will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the Lord done so to this great city?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshiped other gods and served them.’ ” Weep not for the dead, nor bemoan him; Weep bitterly for him who goes away, For he shall return no more, Nor see his native country. For thus says the Lord concerning Shallum the son of Josiah, king of Judah, who reigned instead of Josiah his father, who went from this place: “He shall not return here anymore, but he shall die in the place where they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more. “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness And his chambers by injustice, Who uses his neighbor’s service without wages And gives him nothing for his work, Who says, ‘I will build myself a wide house with spacious chambers, And cut out windows for it, Paneling it with cedar And painting it with vermilion.’ “Shall you reign because you enclose yourself in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; Then it was well. Was not this knowing Me?” says the Lord . “Yet your eyes and your heart are for nothing but your covetousness, For shedding innocent blood, And practicing oppression and violence.” Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “They shall not lament for him, Saying, ‘Alas, my brother!’ or ‘Alas, my sister!’ They shall not lament for him, Saying, ‘Alas, master!’ or ‘Alas, his glory!’ He shall be buried with the burial of a donkey, Dragged and cast out beyond the gates of Jerusalem. “Go up to Lebanon, and cry out, And lift up your voice in Bashan; Cry from Abarim, For all your lovers are destroyed. I spoke to you in your prosperity, But you said, ‘I will not hear.’ This has been your manner from your youth, That you did not obey My voice. The wind shall eat up all your rulers, And your lovers shall go into captivity; Surely then you will be ashamed and humiliated For all your wickedness. O inhabitant of Lebanon, Making your nest in the cedars, How gracious will you be when pangs come upon you, Like the pain of a woman in labor? “ As I live,” says the Lord , “though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off; and I will give you into the hand of those who seek your life, and into the hand of those whose face you fear—the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the hand of the Chaldeans. So I will cast you out, and your mother who bore you, into another country where you were not born; and there you shall die. But to the land to which they desire to return, there they shall not return. “Is this man Coniah a despised, broken idol— A vessel in which is no pleasure? Why are they cast out, he and his descendants, And cast into a land which they do not know? O earth, earth, earth, Hear the word of the Lord ! Thus says the Lord : ‘Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.’ ”

JER 23:1-8 NKJV

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the Lord . Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the Lord . “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the Lord . “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord , “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE Lord OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. “Therefore, behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord , “that they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ And they shall dwell in their own land.”

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