Justice - Building Peace
Background Scripture: Luke 19: 1-10
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9
“How can you represent someone who is guilty?” This question is one that criminal defense lawyers get used to hearing, but it could just as easily be asked of lawyers who practice civil law, corporate law, family law and so on. How can you side with the person at fault against the innocent people he or she harmed?
That’s just what the crowd complained when Jesus chose Zaccheaus as his dinner companion. Zaccheaus was a corrupt tax collector, a white collar criminal whose victims were the very people who had come to see, listen to and admire Jesus. He was unpopular not simply because of his profession, but because he had used his position to extort more money than the people owed.
Zaccheaus’ response showed that his encounter with Jesus had changed him. He offered fourfold restitution to his victims and half of his wealth to the poor. The restitution offer was not bravado (“If you can prove I took anything I’ll pay four times the amount”). Instead it was based on provisions of Old Testament law that required multiple restitution in such cases (see, e.g. Ex. 22:1-15). In other words, Zaccheaus was confessing his guilt publically and was agreeing to pay damages as the law required.
The Hebrew word for restitution is shillum, which is derived from the more familiar word shalom. Shalom is a description of the ideal community: peaceful, righteous, prosperous. It describes a community in which not only is there no overt hostility between people, but in which they are genuinely in harmony with each other.
Shalom is broken when one person intentionally harms another. Harmony, concord, is violated. Hostility replaces peace, and the problem for the peacemaker is how to repair the damage and restore shalom.
These Hebrew words remind us that making amends is a key to restoring peace. This can influence the advice attorneys give their clients when they are in the wrong. But we should not be surprised when outside observers do not understand. Jesus’ example with Zaccheaus reminds us that peacemakers may encounter hostility as they work to restore harmony.
Suggested readings: Study the legal provisions of Exodus 22:1-15 and think about why different amounts of restitution were prescribed for different circumstances.
What principles are revealed here?
Read Jeremiah 10:24 and think about the difference between being corrected with justice and being corrected with anger.
Are there persons to whom you need to make amends?
What steps can you take today to begin doing that?
Dan Van Ness, Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives with Prison Fellowship International.
A. Button, Week 9: Justice – Building Peace, in WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? 26-27 (L. Buzzard ed.1997).
Used with permission of the publisher, Advocates International.