What a strange few months it has been. I don’t know about you, but for me, in these days of global pandemics and calls for social justice, it has been so easy to “miss the forest for the trees,” as the old saying goes. It is easy for me to become so focused on my own little world and how these things affect (or don’t affect) me personally, that I fail to see the bigger picture. I fail to step into a higher calling. I become so concerned and consumed with my own well-being that I fail to see, or even think about, the greater good. Granted, seeing the greater good, and understanding exactly what it takes to get us there, is way more complicated than I might imagine, but it seems like it is an endeavor that is worth the time and effort and conversation.
We are living in a time and a season where things like wearing masks and canceling sporting events and being asked to stay at home have become a part of the landscape, as has our willingness or unwillingness to adhere to each. Should bars stay open or should they close? Should there be football or should there not be? Should schools reopen or should we only have online learning? Questions abound. How on earth are we, as God’s people, supposed to even begin to answer these questions?
And what about social justice issues? How have we allowed people who are made in the image of God, with beauty and dignity and purpose, to be cast aside or held down or belittled or marginalized? And how do we keep creating systems that make it almost impossible for them to thrive and grow and flourish? When the well-being of one part of society is defended and maintained at the expense of another, should that not repulse us and call us to action?
Israel wanted a king, so God gave them one. The king was to be an extension and a representative of God to his people. The king’s job was to lead and to guide, to provide for and protect and defend. The king was to be about God’s reign, God’s rule, and God’s kingdom on earth, not his just own. One of the main ways the king was supposed to do this was by assuring justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tsedeq) for all (see Psalm 72). Justice meaning that the standards of the kingdom were to be applied equally and fairly to everyone. And righteousness literally meaning to be straight, or that everyone and everything would be as it was meant to be; everyone is given the opportunity to be exactly who and what God intended them to be—in right relationship with him and in right relationship with one other.
The main way you could tell whether a king was doing his job or not, was by how well the poor and vulnerable and marginalized were doing (the anavim). If the anavim were flourishing and prospering, then the king was doing a good job; he was being God’s leader and representative to the people. And if the anavim were not prospering, if they were not being treated rightly and justly, then the king was failing in his role and needed to be replaced. Everything hinged on how well the poor and vulnerable and weak and marginalized were doing, which might be something we need to pay attention to these days.
In the midst of any health crisis, particularly COVID-19, it seems like the most vulnerable are always the poor, the newborn (and unborn), and the elderly. What if we made our decisions about openings and closings, masks or no masks, sports or no sports, school in person or online, based on what is most beneficial to the most vulnerable among us? Would that not be the most God-like (king-like) thing to do? Especially in the midst of a virus that can so easily and unknowingly be passed along from one person to another. What if we stopped making it about our own individual rights and wants and preferences, and started making it about what was most loving and caring to everyone, even the poor and the elderly? Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge football fan, and I want there to be football. I just don't want it to be at anyone's expense. Would it be too much to ask to miss a football season if it was in order to save the lives of those who are weakest and most vulnerable among us?
And what about social justice? Living where I live and doing what I normally do, I can go for months without even thinking about it, but others are not so fortunate. What if my level of contentment with where things are in the country and the world, as far as justice issues are concerned, was dependent upon those who have to deal with them on a daily basis? What if I was never content until they were content? What if I refused to flourish until they were free to flourish? What if we all cared about everyone being treated with the dignity and respect and kindness and equity and love that we hope to be shown ourselves? What if it is wasn’t enough just to be aware of what the issues are, but to actually be a part of doing something about them?
You see, when we focus on the micro, we tend to get ourselves in trouble; it brings out the absolute worst in all of us. Things become combative and defensive and argumentative, and even violent. We just start spinning around in our own little lives, worrying about our own needs and wants, and we miss the great big story God has called us (all of humanity) to take part in. But when we are able to shift our focus, our seeing and our thinking, to the macro—to the bigger picture, to the greater good—God begins to do amazing things. God works in and through us, and the world becomes a better place to live…for everyone.