Theological Reflection on Justice and Peace

as Christians we are inspired by God’s preferential option for the poor and we are mindful of the injunction that “He who oppresses the poor insults his Maker” (Proverb 14,31).

In today’s world, the question to Cain “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4,6) speaks to us. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper and we cannot go “past on the other side” (Luk 10,32)

In the cry of Jesus on the cross, we recognize the cry of the poor and the oppressed in Africa and in Europe today. It is a cry, which interrogates us and leads us to strive, in all human fallibility, for a world in which all people can live their lives in all fullness (John 10,10). On the base of these convictions we take a deep interesting the relationships between the peoples and EU and Africa.


If you look at the mission of the people of God in different historical contexts we see that God elected Israel, and later the communities of the Messiah Jesus, in order to attract the peoples of the earth to live out an alternative to the kingdoms and empires of the Ancient near East, and this means an alternative in economic-political and at the same time in theological-ideological terms. “Israel was commissioned to be a “light to the nations”. There was, therefore, a sense in which everything connected with them was exemplary in principle. The gifts of land to live in and law to live by were intrinsic to the way God shaped Israel to be a “model” people. All the time one studies the particulars of Israel’s social, economic and political structures one must keep in mind the universal goal of their existence in the first place. This important hermeneutic principle helps to unlock the relevance of the Old Testament” (Christopher J.H. Wright)


A. Contexts in the history of Israel

1. The pre-state time between about 1250 and 1000

The alternative people of Yahweh’s liberated slaves and tenants.

Early Israel was a conscious counter-model to the surrounding kingdoms and empires. Ex. 3 reflects the experience that the self-revelation of Y happened to precisely those people who were oppressed or marginalized in and around the empire of Egypt and the rest of the Ancient near East. They were called Hebrews. The name of the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh, meant, “I shall be with you” - with you the oppressed in your struggle to get free. The second element of Y’s revelation, beside God’s liberating power, was the law - to make the liberated people different from the surrounding oppressive kingdoms and empires. 


Historically this happened when there was a period of weakness of the superpowers on the Nile and the Euphrates and, consequently also of their satellites in Palestine, the kingdoms in the valleys and the fortified cities forcing peasants into tribute. So the liberated slaves and liberated tenants could join up in the highlands of Palestine, settling there as small self-sufficient farming families and clans. They did not organize in the form of monarchy but on the contrary, as the assembly of all the representatives of the clans of small peasants. Y gave them charismatic leaders (judges) when they were attacked form outside. 

A whole people in autonomy, self-sufficiency, equality and solidarity - not without problems but with a vision - this is the “model” in the first context of Israel. 


2. The time of kingship in Israel and Judah (until 586 B.C.)

Archeology shows that the model of the early Israel “peasant republic” was successful. A new village culture blossomed. The population grew beyond the highlands. Terracing started and within division of labor. Some got stronger and richer than others. The contact with the valleys and the plain raised the interest in trade but also the conflicts with the Canaanite cities and its military. So the interested groups in Israel started to want a king “like the other peoples” to lead their wars (1 Sam 8)? Bu the free and egalitarian peasants resisted the introduction of monarchy (Judges 9) and also Y’s prophet Samuel (1 Sam 8) The main argument: Y is no longer king, the people will be enslaved by the king system as in Egypt and the other Ancient Near Eastern kingdoms and empires from which they had liberated. Concretely that means: the best land will be given to the court and the court officials, the young people will be recruited to work for the court, and the young men for the king’s army. Bu Israel decided to be like others. Solomon is the example of the adjustment of its to the normal. He adds the building of the state temple to the burdens of the people. When the peasants of the northern thrive revolt against his son, the kingdom is split in


2. But soon the North goes back to the “normal” type of king system. We have the first confrontation between Yahweh’s prophets in coalition with the peasants and the impoverished people, and on the other the king system. The subject is the Theo-economy.

a) The economy-economy

The question of “who is God” is formulated as the question of what political economy you choose. Equal distribution of land as the means of producing sufficiently for all extended families and clans, plus legal and political sharing of power among the elders, stands for the faith in Y; the G of liberation and justice with solidarity. Unequal ownership and distribution of land to the advantage of the king and the court officials as big landowners, plus the manipulation of the legal system through the wealth classes, stand for the faith in Baal - with strong overtone of male domination. 

The classical story is Ahab robbing the vineyard of Naboth and killing him (1 Kings 21). 

Not only does it develop and sustain class structures within the society; It is also characterized by conquering the neighbors in imperial attacks (1 Kgs 22). Also the question of relationship between the people and nature is at stake in that conflict. This comes out in the dramatic issue between Yahweh’s prophet and the Baal priests: who gives the rain, Yaweh or Baal? (1Kgs 18)

Elijah Yahweh’ prophet the idol is Baal (for Jesus it will be Mammon)

Faith in Y is identified with justice and life, faith in the idols with injustice and death. Jeremiah puts in it (Jer 22,16) (Josiah) dispensed justice to the lowly and poor, did not this show he knew me? Says the lord (Jer 22,16). 

During this time there are two features which characterizes Israel ‘s mission during this time, even when the people of God shared in the questionable basic political and economic structures:

(1) The development of prophetic movements

(2) Significant attempts of revolution and legal reform


3. The time of semi-autonomy within the Persian empire (until 333)

Many proposals and experiments to design a Judaic community in social, economic and political terms; some of them:

a) The landless people left in Judah

They got back some land and organized themselves without tribute to a king and a temple, using the surplus for caring for the poor and for a big festival once a year. (Jubilee year) (Deut 14-15)

b) Deutero-Isaiah (Is 40-55)

Detach Y’s actions in history from the Davidic king seeing God working though creation and also through the kings of other nations like Kyros who liberated the Judaic people from Babylon. They go even further attaching God’s action in history to the suffering people, the suffering servant (is 52-53). Vicarious suffering for the sins of others who do injustice in order to heal the broken community.

The priest-pro Ezekiel

promotes very precise regulations: leaders not too much land so that the original order for every extended family can be reinstated (Ez 45; 8-9)

c) The priests

The day of reconciliation (Yom Kippur) (Lev. 16) linked to the Holiness Code (Lev.17-26) has to see with the experience of structural sin during monarchy, which ended in a catastrophe.

The annual day of reconciliation means: never again shall sin become structural, routine.

The Holiness Code has criteria and is structured in such a way that they provide for a mechanism redressing wrong developments.

4. The time under totalitarian Hellenistic-roman empires

The book of Job reflects the beginning of this period. The economy becomes money driven giving all the advantages to the cities and all disadvantages to the countryside. 

This is the time when Y’s people say “no” at the risk of being burnt in the furnace! And express themselves in apocalyptic literature

The second thing they do is to analyze the clay feet of the absolute power system. It will collapse; this breaks the fear of the absolute power system. 

The apocalyptic visionary sees the final victory of G’s kingdom with a human face.

Different groups in that resistance: Maccabees, the Pharisees, the Zealots, Qumran (anticipating the kingdom of God in their own community leaving the rest of the world to the disaster of final judgmental, messianic groups with the poor waiting for the miraculous breaking-in of the kingdom of God.

a) Jesus’ message

The center of Jesus’s message is the kingdom of God. 

Jesus and his disciples belong to the Judaic movements opposing fundamentally the Hellenistic Roman empire as a political, economic and ideological system and all those of his own people adjusting to this opposite to Y’s loving plans for his people and the whole world.

J’s political-economic analysis (Mc 10, 42-45)

“You know the rulers of the earth...” it is a “no” to the system of absolutist kings and their exploitative and oppressive elites. It is in this context that we have to see his clear “no” to mammon (Mt 6, 21; 6, 19-34) Attacks against the temple system...

Money accumulation by tribute for the temple, slave production and trade taking away the means of life from the poor, and particularly the rural poor, which marks the political economic context of J’s rejection of Mammon. This idol rules structures and hearts. 

The structure of the people of G is mutual service. The function “diakonein”. J asks his disciples to create an egalitarian alternative in the spirit of the “human one” 

Jesus says a clear “non” to an idolatrous money economy structured to enrich a few while enslaving, oppressing and killing the poor majority, and building up of messianic cells of faith and justice as small- scale alternatives and as a witness to the coming of the kingdom of God is the way Jesus acts in a totalitarian context. 

The early Christian communities continue this way (Acts 2, 42-47; 4, 32-35).

The particular mandate of Paul was to establish alternative, messianic cells in the whole oikumene. Paul develops the AT model suggesting many such attractive examples of faith and love-governed communities should be spread throughout the peoples to penetrate the oikumene until it fulfils that movement and becomes all in all. The features of these communities are in (Gal 3, 26-28) 

The peaceful living together of the Jews and the other peoples) akin into God’s history of creating justice through the elected people - the overcoming of the slave economy and patriarchy is the promised universalizing of God’s alternative. Even the whole creation is seen as longing for that liberation and to join of the messianic community.

5. The “no” of the witnesses

The martyrs at the Coliseum being killed while praying; Bonhoeffer praying before being killed. The fact that they publicly stuck to their “no” to the absolute claim of the emperor meant that 2 things happened:

The emperor in Dan 3 lost his absolute power through faithful powerlessness? =And the powerless could see a hope of liberation. Absolute power had clay feet. It needs constant legitimization by people submissive to it. If only one person say “no” the monster starts to crumble. Ex. the civil rights movements against, the farm workers’ struggles, and the campaigns against the Vietnam War. The effect is not always in a short term.

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