If you buy McCormick ® or Lawry’s ® brand cumin in the Seasoning aisle at your local grocery store, you will purchase either the .75-ounce or 1.5-ounce size container. This smaller than palm-size container, a mere one-sixteenth of a single pound of cumin, is frequently used in 1 teaspoon measurements in recipes. This teaspoon of ground seed is, to all intent-and-purpose, weightless.
You likely have cumin in the seasoning rack of your home. If you’re like me, even the less than 1/16th of a pound cumin container is used so infrequently in 1 teaspoon increments that you probably only purchase another container of this ground seed, a time or two annually.
When used as a seasoning agent in a recipe, cumin comprises a tiny fraction of the total ingredients that are stirred in for the family casserole or electric-cooking pot meal.
What does cumin have to do with the title of this article, “Seasoned for Justice”? What is Justice in the Gospel? And what is Justice in Scripture?
Jesus criticized the religious officials of his day, saying they were more concerned about paying a tithe on their teaspoons-of-seasoning than they were committed to making justice effective in their communities. For Jesus, the failure to make justice effective was a travesty of great seriousness, worthy of condemnation. Justice had more weight.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. . .” (Matt. 23:23 NAS).
Jesus was concerned with the “weightier provisions,” which means that Jesus was concerned with matters that had more importance and significance. Justice, says Jesus, is of greater mandate and more important than a tithe on cumin. Where religious officials were attempting to weigh and tithe on their smallest portions of seasonings to get the perfect measure, Jesus indicts their failure to measure up on the scale of taking care of others using just practices. For Jesus, justice was understood as the equitable distribution of God’s total-life resources such that harmonious relationships of mutual flourishing might enable all of God’s people to prosper in every sphere of life.
Let’s see in some detail the centuries-long repeated refrain for Justice in the Bible. Later we’ll frame more fully this Biblical idea of justice as defined in the categories of equitable care and mutual flourishing where all of God’s people thrive.
Jesus’ indictment to the religious-minded of his day is precisely on target with the words of prophets in voluminous passages of Scripture. In the centuries before Jesus, other God-ordained spokespersons shared the same ideas of Jesus. These proclamations are found in the words of prophets in Scripture who declared the Word of the LORD.
Amos is the earliest of the prophetic books (8th Century B.C.), announcing for the LORD, “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate!” (Amos 5:15 NAS
Micah & Isaiah (8th Century B.C.), were contemporaneous with Amos, proclaiming, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8 NAS).
Isaiah made clear that the LORD wanted people to “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; Defend the orphan, [and] Plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:17 NAS).
In the next century, echoing the same refrain, Jeremiah (7th Century B.C.) announced, "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor. . .7 then I [the LORD} will let you dwell in this place” (Jer. 7:5-7 NAS). Jeremiah looks forward to the reign of a new leader, from David as “a righteous Branch” who will “reign as king and act wisely. [He will] do justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 23:5 NAS).
Another century later, the prophet Zechariah (6th Century B.C.) appealed to the same established lyrical refrain: "Thus has the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion. . .” (Zech. 7:9 NAS).
Each prophet, in hundreds of years, received their proclamation and passed on the need for justice from divine revelation from the LORD. And this LORD proclaimed the same to Moses and the Israelites at Sinai several centuries earlier when He called Israel into existence as a Priestly Kingdom and Holy Nation (Exodus 19) (12th Century B.C. or earlier). In the first books of Scripture, the Pentateuch (Torah), God declared that everything He does is toward the reality of Justice. The final chapters of Deuteronomy proclaim about the LORD: “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4 NAS).
Not only are God’s ways Just, this Just One announces to God’s people: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut. 16:20 NAS). God, who is just, demands that His people pursue justice in the land He gives them. Justice is a mandate for all of God’s people, quite a weighty matter!
Scripture makes clear from the Pentateuch through the Old Testament prophets and even into the ministry of Jesus as prophet that God expects His people to pay attention to the urgent matter of justice. God’s people must practice justice.
Justice, therefore, is more urgent than a “touch of seasoning” to be added to a casserole. Justice is the “main dish” and what God wants for His people and all of Creation.
Justice is what the LORD proclaims as the necessary action of God’s people. Scripture makes this reality clear.
Justice is a biblical mandate, a command from Scripture, an imperative from the LORD, a prophetically proclaimed expectation for God’s people.
Justice, as the equitable distribution of God’s total-life resources, so that harmonious relationships of mutual flourishing might enable all of God’s people to prosper in every sphere of life, cannot be ignored.
What exactly is this justice? More on that in part two.
**Marty Alan Michelson is Professor at Southern Nazarene University with an active academic and advocacy profile engaging: Biblical Interpretation, Church Practice, Public Policy and Advocacy, Jewish History, Global Stewardship, and Human Personhood. Marty holds three earned Masters Degrees and a Doctorate in Philosophy. He speaks to civic and faith-based groups, engages politicians on issues of peacemaking, and teaches and preaches to and for the church. As a scholar and as a person, Marty is committed to research that engages real human persons, effecting positive social change for the good of humanity.