“It’s Not My Problem": Seeking Justice and Mercy
“It’s not my problem”. This phrase makes me laugh, and that probably sounds strange to you. But there’s a reason, and it’s not that I’m just a jerk, although I’m sure I can be at times. Anyway, I was really close with my cousins growing up, and during the Summer we would spend days upon days at each other’s houses. A memory that still comes up around holiday dinner tables is when I would sleep over my cousin Jacqueline’s house. One of her chores was to fold the laundry, and whenever I was around she would ask for my help, and every time, without fail my response would be, “Jack, what would you do if I wasn’t here? It’s not my problem”. Now technically there is some truth to that statement. It wasn’t my problem, and I had every right to resist helping her. But there’s something that doesn’t sit right with that response. The reason why this sort of response makes us cringe is because it shines a spotlight on everything that is wrong with this world. But while it shines a spotlight on what is wrong, it also stirs up a longing within us.
We long for all that is wrong with this world to be set right, and that setting right is what the biblical writers refer to as justice. The justice that the biblical writers speak mostly of is restorative justice, which is a justice that seeks to care for the vulnerable among us- those who have been trampled over, marginalized, and put out. The prophet Micah says it like this: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). “To do justice”. Justice is something that God would have us “do”, but what does that mean? How do we “do justice”?
I told my cousin that her chores weren’t my problem, and this microcosmic event from my childhood sums up all of the injustice in the world, which is that humanity has decided to tell fellow image bearers who are suffering, being mistreated, who have been pushed to the margins of society, “It’s just not my problem”. But God has called us to something bigger than this, in fact when God chose Abraham to be the father of his chosen people, the people who would show the world what God was like, he instructed him “to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19), and that means that the problems of those around us become our problems.
“It’s not my problem” is an unchristian response to the suffering of this world, and as we continue in our journey toward the cross of Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter Sunday, it will serve us well to meditate on this truth, that Jesus of Nazareth made our problem his problem. Paul, a first century missionary and follower of Jesus said it like this, that Christians should “have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-9).
To be like Jesus is to clothe yourself in the pain of your neighbors, the misery of a friend, the suffering of your enemy. It is to enter into the pit with the broken and hoist them up on your shoulders so it’s not you who comes out and is seen, but rather your brother or your sister. It is to walk alongside and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves (cf. Prov. 31:8, 9). It is defending the rights of others above your own. And in mercy, demonstrating patience, as our Lord has abundantly shown to us, when those with whom we are walking, serving, loving and dying are showing little to no gratitude.
When and only when the community of faith is obedient in this calling, then the world will know what God is like.