15 May 2017

Wise Woman of Tekoa: Justice and Mercy

2. Samuel 14:1-24

Justice must be served,
the guilty must be punished;
justice must prevail
through the hand of the King.
As a just ruler
you must deal out judgement,
appeasing the masses
that clamour for blood.
Wrongs can't be ignored,
evil can't be covered -
the guilty must be punished,
justice must be served.

But, Lord,
I am a Mother,
and you, Lord, are a Father.
Does not your father's heart
throb in you like mine?

Justice must be served
on my son who killed his brother;
the thirsty masses cry for blood.
I can't ignore his wrongs
that tear my heart asunder -
but vengeance will not heal me,
retribution won't atone my loss.
I have lost one son -
would you have me lose another?
Justice must be served,
but is this truly justice?

For, Lord,
I am a Mother,
and you, Lord, are a Father.
Does not your father's heart
throb in you like mine?

Justice must be served
on your son who killed his brother.
As a just ruler
you must deal out judgement.
But Lord,
you are a Father
and he is your son.
Close the eyes of the ruler,
look with the eyes of a Father,
and tell me what you see.
Put aside the ruler's iron mind
and listen to your father's heart.
See your child
and find mercy.

Evil can't be covered,
but mercy covers all.
Wrongs can't be ignored,
but a Parent's heart sees
the broken child beneath the sin.
Open your arms,
give in to your longing,
invite your child home
to the embrace where he belongs.
Let love restore
that which was broken;
let the tears of mercy
wash away the pain -

For justice is not retribution;
wrongs can't be healed by revenge -
justice is mercy and restoration,
justice is a parent's love,
justice is God
sparing His weak children,
granting us life again and again.
Justice is a Mother's embrace,
a Father's grace.


[15. May 2017]

So: King David's eldest son Amnon raped his half-sister Thamar. Thamar's brother Absalom, seeing David do nothing, took justice into his own hands and murdered Amnon. David reacted by banishing Absalom. The wise woman of Tekoa comes in as an attempt of David's general Joab to convince David to end the banishment and let Absalom return.

I really like this story. It shows the complexity of justice and mercy and a parent's love - and it made me think about God's mercy and what that means.

The wise woman of Tekoa basically told a story similar to David's: the case of one of her sons killing his brother, and the people demanding punishment. The way she told the story she nudged David into saying the murderer should be spared for the mother's sake - because otherwise she would lose both sons. That way she could "twist" David into realising that the right decision for him would be to call Absalom back. That's how Bible wisdom works, apparently. ;-) (Nathan used the same method to bring David to indict himself on the Bathsheba incident...)

What the wise woman of Tekoa showed David was: he should look at the matter not as a ruler, but as a father. She showed him it was all right to give in to his love for his son - that it was not any less "just", but more so, than punishing him.

How do we imagine God looking at us and "judging" us? As a ruler? Or as a Father? A ruler or judge looks at the law and how well we followed it. He is completely neutral. A parent is not neutral: a parent loves his/her child. I believe God looks upon us as a parent; He sees us as His children and wants to save us. His aim is salvation, not ensuring all the rules are followed. "We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished for ever from his presence." (v.14)

And, yes, there are perpetrators and victims, as the complicated story of Amon, Thamar and Absalom (including later Absalom's rebellion) shows all too well! But both perpetrators and victims are loved by God. God wants salvation for all. God's justice is justice for perpetrators and victims - which means it is more than just retributive justice or "paying back" what was done. I love the concept of "restorative justice"; I believe that is what all of us actually need... because victims are not really served by retributive justice either. The woman of Tekoa, a victim because she was robbed of her son, is not helped by the execution of her second son! I believe the justice of God is restorative justice: healing and restoring relationships, helping perpetrators to stop being perpetrators, bringing victims to their rights. And that is the kind of justice we Christians are called to live as well.. giving people a chance to change, helping up the downtrodden, working for peace and healing between people who otherwise would hurt each other.

As for "justice is mercy"...this is on my mind a lot. It bothers me how, very often, I see the word "justice" abused in the Christian context, as though justice were the opposite of mercy. As in: "God is a merciful God but He is also just", as if justice and mercy were opposites. Biblically, they are not - they are tightly and inseparably interlinked.

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