There's an old story about a priest, who while strolling through the sanctuary of the church one day overheard two men praying, the younger of the two men was praying fervently:
O Lord, you know how hard I have tried and how I have been wronged by others.
You alone know what injustices I have suffered and how my enemies harass me. All I ask of you is that you
grant me justice! Give me only what I deserve. I know that my prayer will be answered.
The minister thought that God would undoubtedly answer the young man's prayer since he was so sincere.
He was praying only for justice, not revenge and he was so filled with faith that God would answer the prayer.
Then he moved closer to the older man and overheard him praying:
Gracious Father, you know how long I have prayed to you for justice, begging you to correct the wrongs done to me
and to give me what I deserved. Please, Lord, disregard my previous prayers and grant me mercy.
Miserable sinner that I am, Lord, please, don't give me what I deserve!
The priest smiled and thought: "Yes, wisdom comes with age."
Now I've always liked that story, but it doesn't seem to fit well with today's gospel lesson
(actually, it fits better with the gospel text for next week).
But I thought I ought to point out this week that Jesus tells his disciples to pray for justice.
Now I know that can't be because the disciples didn't need mercy!
Jesus was always quick to point out that all of us were sinners. All of us have sinned and fallen short of righteousness.
None of us can stand before God's judgment. All of us must rely on God's grace.
Jesus was so consistent in that message that he died in order to make the atonement for our sins that we could never make. So why is Jesus telling his disciples to pray for justice? Why is he telling them to count on God's justice,
to trust in God's justice?
The only answer I can think of is that Jesus is telling us something about the nature of God's justice.
Maybe God's justice bears little resemblance to what we think of as "justice."
So I thought back to when I was practicing law. I remembered that the last paragraph of any legal pleading is called the prayer. When Jack sues the manufacturer of his defective stereo, he files a petition that ends with a prayer,
praying that the court will find the manufacturer liable and award him some money.
When the manufacturer responds to Jack's lawsuit, it files an answer that ends with a prayer,
praying that the court will find it has done nothing wrong and that the court will deny Jack's claim.
A century ago all of these prayers were couched in very flowery language about justice
but no matter how these prayers are phrased, no matter how many times the word justice was used,
the parties were really asking the court to give them what they wanted. And in my experience,
the winner of a lawsuit always thought the American "justice" system worked and the loser always thought there was no justice. That's the way most of us think about justice, isn't it?
Life is fair when it's going our way but when things don’t go to suit us, we think that what the world needs now is more justice.
In this age of continuous coverage of sensational trials, we get to watch how the justice system treats other folks.
Some of you may have watched one or more of these celebrity trials and whether we were glued to the set from gavel to gavel, or just caught bits and pieces, most of us form some opinion about whether the defendant was guilty or innocent.
Some of us will believe the jury verdict was the epitome of justice and some of us will think it was a travesty of justice.
But none of us knows, none of us knows whether justice was done, except God, not even the defendant.
Sure he/she knows whether the alleged fact were true. She/he knows whether they did or did not do the crime,
but real justice is bigger than that. For instance, I have heard folks say that, in their opinion, even if the chronically abusive husband didn't murder his wife, he deserved to pay his life for having beaten her.
And I have heard folks say that, even if some celebrity or political figure did commit the crime he was charged with,
he had suffered enough just by being tried and humiliated so publicly. Furthermore, one can argue that justice isn't just about one person, but about all of human history. If the abusive spouse is found not guilty,
will that make us less concerned about domestic violence? Will that give the next abuser permission or encouragement?
And if the celebrity is not found guilty, does that mean that we are more concerned with celebrity
than we are with equal justice for all. Only God knows whether any of that is true – less well whether it is fair and just.
Jesus tells us that we should pray continually to God for justice and trust in God's justice, have faith in God's justice.
Personally, I prefer to rely on God's justice. Only God's justice is based on knowledge of all the facts, past, present, and future. Only God's justice is completely free from bias. Only God's justice is completely free from base motives
like revenge, or self-seeking. But most of all, only God's justice is completely based on love.
God isn't like the lazy judge in the parable. God's justice doesn't depend on our nagging him.
God's justice doesn't depend on our having the best lawyer or the best expert witnesses.
God's justice is derived solely from God's caring for us. God is just because we need justice.
We need justice in order to grow and be the best we can be, in order to understand the consequences of our actions,
in order to learn to just be with each other. And God is just because God loves us. God will be quick to grant us justice,
or at least as quick as we really need. And because we need to have faith in that fact, because we need to be reminded of that fact, because we need to trust in God and not in ourselves, we are directed to pray, day and night, for God's justice,
for God's kingdom to come, for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
You see, it’s not God who needs to be reminded or nagged by our constant prayers. God will be just, and fair and merciful, because that is who God is.
But we have short memories and we need to pray day and night and remind ourselves day and night that justice, ----------true justice, is fairer than we can imagine and more merciful than we can imagine and it is guaranteed
by the God who is Justice, Peace and Love.
PRAYING FOR JUSTICE
Last Weeks Sermon