Bible insights from your friends at La Jolla Lutheran Church

Suffering and injustice

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Monday 1 Peter 2:20-24 (NRSV)
If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Sometimes society has been changed by people who were willing to suffer unjustly – Gandhi’s transformation of India and Dr. Martin Luther King’s transformation of the United States are two examples. Other times people have advocated a more forceful or even violent response to injustice.

Peter’s advice above was addressed to slaves. He said the patient suffering of Jesus was an example of how to behave when treated unjustly. What do you think?

How should someone behave when abused?

Tuesday John 18:37b-19:1 (NRSV)
[Jesus told Pilate,] “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.

Pilate said he thought Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing. He says three times “I find no case against him.” But in spite of that he had Jesus flogged, mocked and finally crucified. Because Pilate doesn’t believe truth is certain or fixed, he feels no compulsion to treat Jesus justly.

A secular viewpoint might think that Jesus had no power to resist the authorities when he was being questioned, tortured and killed. But that is not Jesus’ view. In Matthew 26:53, Jesus said if he had wanted to escape he could have asked God for twelve legions of angels (36,000 or more!). But Jesus says he had to be arrested and crucified to fulfill scripture.

What do you think of the actions of the Jews who were present?

What do you think of Pilate’s actions?

What do you think of Jesus’ actions?

Wednesday Romans 12:14-21 (NRSV)
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22, which says that when we help our enemies God will reward us.

What do you think it means to feed your enemies when they are hungry?

What kinds of enemies do you think you should you feed, if any?

Thursday Romans 13:1-5 (NRSV)
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.

Paul says every person should be subject to the governing authorities, and if you want to have no fear of authority you should do what is good.

How would you interpret these verses if you had Jewish friends and lived in Nazi Germany?

How would you interpret these verses if you had friends who were participating in civil disobedience and you lived in Alabama in the 1950s?

How do you interpret these verses today?

Friday Isaiah 59:14 (NRSV)
Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter.

Isaiah says when truth stumbles in the public square (that is, in the place of public discourse) then righteousness and justice hold back. They may be near at hand, but they are not present in the place where truth has stumbled.

Pilate’s ambiguity towards truth allowed him to both think Jesus was innocent and to have him unjustly flogged, tortured and killed.

What are some places that you think truth has stumbled in the public square today?

What might be done about it?

Where has truth stumbled in your life?

What have been the consequences so far?

Read John 18:28-19:7. This account of Jesus at the hands of the priests and Pilate deals with some of the most difficult concepts of the Bible – truth, righteousness, justice, obedience (and resistance) to authority, loving our enemies, and the leaving of vengeance to God. Jesus, and the truth to which he has come to testify, find themselves in conflict with fear and ignorance and self-interest of religious and secular leaders and of the people themselves.

What did Jesus do in the face of this conflict?

What did he teach us to do?

What does he do for us?