“He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
It was not long ago that I was the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor. I was the one who needed help when it was difficult to find and even harder to accept.
It sounds trite, but I am still moved with gratitude for the outpouring of those who saw us in a time of great need. By the generosity of God’s people, we were restored. Homes were opened up to us, kindness was extended, gifts made from hearts of mercy were poured out lavishly on our family in the most dignified of ways. Mishpat surrounded us and held us up during a difficult time.
“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Ps. 103:6
Mishpat is the Hebrew word meaning justice, and it is intrinsically tied to righteousness. It is not simply a word regarding judgement or just verdicts. It encompasses the idea of seeing evil–the wrongs of the world–and setting them right.
But how does a person do justice in a world filled with such greed and corruption? In a world where the definitions of good and evil are always shifting, and it depends upon who you ask?
For some justice is vengeance. Repayment in full for deeds done against another. Like a sword, it separates right and wrong, inflicting punishment on the later. For others, justice is the doling out of due equality. If wrong led to A, then A must be recompensed. Flip things around and give everyone a fair chance. For others justice is an unfulfilled ache; a long train of abuse that has left their soul echoing in pain. It is the verdict no one ever pronounced. It is life mocking them every day.
But one thing we know for certain: justice is for the oppressed. It is never for the villain. Never for the by stander. Justice is for the vulnerable. And yet often the plight of vulnerable never receives justice; never receives the righteous mercy to which true justice is so instrincally tied.
As a follower of Jesus, He requires me to do justice, but I must learn to do it His way. The command is weighty; so many of the Proverbs makes it clear that doing justice without regard for divine instruction results only in wickedness.
And so mishpat is not a word to take lightly. Neither is it an easy ethic to execute. In its fullness, it is an idea that represents taking on the cause of the vulnerable–the oppressed–as my own responsibility. To do right by them. To treat their plight as though it were my own.
It is simple to donate old clothing or to feed the hungry or ring a bell. Those kinds of things are rewarding, they feel good, and lead to more good. But it is the spirit of mishpat that is complex. It is doing it from a heart of mercy and a position of humility.
In exploring the idea of justice and reflecting back on the mercy extended to me, I’ve come to realize that to do right by others is not something meant primarily for them. It is meant to teach our hearts to love mercy. And really, none of us naturally love mercy. Who finds it a joy to do right to those who have done us great harm? That is the beauty of mishpat.
Mishpat is there to train us to deal with the world in God’s way. To not simply extend mercy, but to actively seek out mercy. In doing so we inevitably recognize our deep need for mercy. And it is only in that we are able to walk humbly with our Maker.
So this Christmas season, do not look down on those in your life who have less or need help. Stop judging their suffering. They are often good people, mistreated by life or facing oppression beyond their control. Instead, extend your hand to downtrodden. With wisdom, bless them with kindness and mercy. Give not of your extra, but of your brokenness. Humble yourself and let your spirit be moved to compassion. Embrace mishpat.