According to Jesus, as we live into our discipleship, we are storing up Treasure in Heaven. In my previous article in this series, I reflected that Treasure is Jesus’ metaphor for what we value the most: what drives our lives and tells us what we want to be known for. Jesus tells us that we need to focus our life on the Kingdom of God.
Discerning What Is Most Important
So, what does that mean? We can begin to understand what Jesus is getting at by looking at a powerful criticism he levels against his spiritual opponents, the Scribes and Pharisees. He criticizes them for focusing on small things that might look like they are important, when in reality, they are missing the bigger picture. He says,
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.Matthew 23:23
Jesus is telling them (and us) that when we look at our actions, we need to be sure that everything we do is marked by ‘justice, mercy and faith.’ Here, Jesus is following a long tradition of Jewish discernment about what is most important about following the law of God.
What Does the Lord Require of You?
In this passage, Jesus is surely thinking of Micah 6:8 when the prophet asks, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with your God?” On a quick reading, these three concepts are easy to understand. But they are also profound enough to justify a deeper look, especially as they are the central requirements of the Lord!
The first one is Justice. Behind this word is the Hebrew concept of Mishpat. It appears more than 200 times in the Old Testament, and its basic meaning is to treat people equitably. It is also a legal term that means to acquit or punish people according to the merits of the case against them and not on the basis of their power or influence. Of course, the Biblical concept of justice is even richer. It is also used in terms of the care and protection of four groups of people: widows, orphans, immigrants (“aliens”) and the poor. In Biblical times, these were the most vulnerable. We could probably add to the list today.
The concept of justice encompasses our whole life, as we daily conduct all of our relationships with fairness, generosity and equity. This is what the Bible calls righteousness, or as we might say now, right relationships. All of this is justice. For Jesus, this is at the heart of what it means to be storing up Treasure in Heaven. Do you live your life in this way?
Our Justice Reflects God’s Justice
Justice is important because it reflects the character of God. Jesus calls us to live justly because that is who God is, and we are called to imitate God’s ways. God is a God of justice, so justice is one element of holiness.
Some people do not like the idea of a just God. They have an image of an angry, judgemental God who is just itching to punish someone. Of course, that is not the right interpretation. Calling God a God of justice is to say that God cares about what is happening in the world. There is a place for the anger of God, although this concept is easily misunderstood. It does not mean what the popular culture has imagined: God who hates humanity and wants to send people to hell. Rather, it means that God is grieved deeply by the cruelty, hatred, abuse, and violence that humans inflict on each other on a daily basis.
Participating in God’s Plan to Set Things Right
To say that God is a God of justice means that God’s plan is to set things right. The judgement of God aims to make the world right, and a place marked by the Gospel values of Justice, Mercy and Faith. God has a vision for a harmonious world marked by Shalom. He is accomplishing this through Jesus Christ.
You get to be a part of it! Philip Yancey writes, “In his grace, God has given ordinary men and women the dignity of participating in the redemption of the cosmos. He is allowing us, through our obedience to him, to help reverse the pain and unfairness of this world…” To work for the betterment of the world IS to store up Treasure in Heaven. Do Justice.