In a sermon preached to the Zion Hill Baptist Church in Los Angeles on June 17, 1962, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a promise that he would repeat in speeches and sermons all over the country. It was a prediction, really, framed in the lyrics of what is considered the anthem of the civil rights movement. “We shall overcome,” he said. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In today’s passage, we find that justice is one of God’s abiding concerns. After condemning Israel for its hypocrisy in fasting, Isaiah describes what God considers a true fast: a sacrificial demonstration of love for others. This fast includes sharing food with the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and clothing the naked.
Although these actions are performed by individual people, they produce a cumulative effect on the community as a whole. Acts of justice have relational as well as economic dimensions. They are the opposite of finger pointing and malicious talk (v. 9). Justice is not merely political; it is also personal. Justice is more than a system. It is something we engage in by our individual actions toward one another.
Our notions of justice today tend to be vague, abstract, or impersonal. We narrow the scope of justice to only legal or political categories. Scripture describes justice in more personal terms. God’s notion of justice affects the way we treat the person standing in front of us. Jesus captures the essence of what justice looks like in the two great commandments: love God with all of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself (see Matt. 22:36–40). This is how we show our love for God and please Him.
If you want to know what justice looks like, determine to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. Then try to demonstrate that love to those around you in practical terms by treating your neighbor the way you would want to be treated. With God’s help we can act justly toward others. Who do you need to treat justly today?