Who likes to go to jury duty? Anybody? It seems to me that before I was married every opportunity they had I was being called for jury duty. It is a terrible waste of a day just so the lawyers can hear that I am a clergy person and I work with children and so want nothing to do with me. To make it worse, my last name started with L which meant that I got called near the end of the day. The first time I had jury duty, I read the entirety of The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare from the beginning to end and finished just after lunch. With nothing else to do I spent the rest of the day wanting to poke my own eyes out from boredom. I don’t sit still well and when they finally called me in to interview me as a possible back up juror, they wanted nothing to do with a clergy person and sent me home. It was very much a wasted day.
We live in a very litigious society. I have known people who sit and make lists of how to make money from lawsuits. There are individuals who have nearly 500 impending lawsuits. I can’t help but think that this is not what our laws were intended for. Our societal laws are intended to protect people from the abuses and mistakes that can occur at the hands of others. Yet this is where we are in our society. If I trip over my feet in front of my neighbor’s house and fall down I can sue them. And it doesn’t matter that I am constantly falling down to begin with and that it is in my nature to be clumsy.
Our scriptures shared with you today deal with justice. Our Old Testament reading from 1 Kings is a particularly scandalous event in the history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This story has everything to do with justice and God being the champion of the weak, the common person, and the individual who is often taken advantage of. It is about God’s law, God’s justice which surpasses all the laws and courts of the land. To really grasp what is going on in the story of Naboth and his death, we must first understand ancient law which was based on God’s law for humanity and was intended to protect people. But like all societies and their laws, they were easily manipulated by those in power.
Jezebel, as Queen, held a lot of power in the land and had Naboth brought to court and sentenced to death. But she had to be careful because she had to make sure that there would be no one left to inherit the land that King Ahab wanted. In Jewish law, it only takes two “witnesses” to convict someone to death. But the crime had to be such that it would wipe out the entire family of Naboth and that crime was that he had to curse the name of God. In the ancient world, people took curses against person and God very seriously much more so than today’s world. Can you imagine such laws in our society today? It would be complete chaos. In the ancient world people feared that God’s wrath would rain down upon the land until the entire line of Naboth was gone. This sentence was a death sentence for Naboth and all of his sons. Innocent blood spilled out for the whims of a spoiled man. Where was the justice for Naboth and his sons?
There was none by the laws of the land. But by God’s laws, by God’s ways, there would a retribution for the crimes of Jezebel, Ahab, and those who collaborated with them to bring calamity upon an innocent God fearing family. Justice in the Bible is not that same as justice in our courts. In our courts it is about retribution, attempting to correct a wrong. This is not divine justice. Divine justice is about being in right relationship with God. It is about trusting that God will champion the rights of the powerless. This is exactly what he did because the actions of Jezebel and Ahab bring about a prophet who would proclaim the destruction of the kingdom that put their own wants and desires above divine law and used God’s name to invoke violence and hate.
So what is justice?(congregation discusses) It’s true meaning has been a bit elusive to me this week. Paul’s letter to the Galatians seems to answer not so much what divine justice is but rather how we achieve justification. We are told that in God’s eyes no one is justified because we all sin. We all make judgments. We all cross the line at some point. It is not our actions that can bring justification. No action can fix the wrongs of the past. They may temper it but they cannot undo. It is purely by our faith in Jesus that we know we are justified; we know we are forgiven; and we know we are to keep trying to live good lives helping those who are abused, forgotten, and pushed to the sidelines of society. Justice is grace received and grace shared. Justice is not only about seeking retribution. It is about seeking to be right with God and helping others to find that balance with God and life through our actions. So this morning we are encouraged to look at what justice means for us and how we work to seek a right relationship with the Holy. How do we seek to help others find that justice in their lives for the matters that truly affect the soul? Paul, who spent his early life hunting Christians, reformed and worked for God and justice for the very people he once attempted to kill, wrote, “And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith in the Son of God”. Our faith is what justifies because our faith leads to action and action in the lives of those oppressed and abused by those in positions of power and this is how God’s justification is made known to a world as imperfect as ours.
 Galatians 2: 20, NRSV.
(based on 1 Kings 21: 1-21 and Galatians 2: 15-21)