Blind Justice

A sermon by Pastor Teddie McConnell for June 19, 2022
In our reading from Galatians this morning, Paul is writing to a church where the leaders insist that justifying faith includes following Jewish law, observing rituals like circumcision and keeping a kosher diet whether or not they were Jews before they became Christians. These men were stuck in the legalism of their Jewish heritage, thinking that they were still under the law of Moses.
Imagine someone saying to you or the men in your family, “Welcome to the church! If you want to belong here, let’s get you circumcised!”
Paul addresses this conflict in the Galatian church by dividing the history of the law into two parts: the one from when Moses received the law in the wilderness until Jesus came, and the current age following Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. While the Israelites were wandering in the desert, losing heart and making idols, Moses returned from Mount Sinai and gave them the law as a supervisor, like a babysitter or au pair who makes sure the kids get to school safely and are okay while mom and dad are at work. The law taught the Israelites about sin and gave them a way to repent through animal sacrifices. But in this new age, the final sacrifice has been made through the suffering and death of Christ, and our sins are forgiven. We have the Holy Spirit to be our counselor, and we are clothed with Christ by faith in the garments of adulthood. We don’t need the law to keep us on the straight and narrow. We know we are forgiven, loved, and free. Gratitude is our reason to treat each other well.
Society as a whole still needs governmental laws with consequences for the people break them. Otherwise there would be widespread abuse by those who have no conscience, no higher power to guide them. After World War II in 1945, there were parts of Europe without police forces or judiciary, and chaos ensued. It was the survival of the fittest in human form.  Keith Law wrote, “In some areas there no longer seems to be any clear sense of right and wrong. People help themselves to whatever they want without regard to ownership. Goods belong only to those who are strong enough to hold onto them, and those who are willing to guard them with their lives. Men with weapons roam the streets, taking whatever they want and threatening anyone who gets in their way.” This is the human selfish sin nature coming out. Even Christians who break society’s laws must accept the legal consequences, even while receiving the mercy of God.
It's hard for us in our time and place to understand the radical nature of Paul’s assertion that all people are equal. Considering that Roman customs in the first century kept most women dependent on their fathers or their husbands, forbidden to vote, run for office, or receive more than a basic education, Paul’s assertion that there is no longer male or female was staggering. Slaves were often treated as less than fully human, so Paul telling the leaders to treat slaves as equals in the church was a huge paradigm shift as well.
Being clothed with Christ is like wearing a spiritual uniform, the armor of God. Although we are all individuals with many differences that society as a whole uses to divide us, like male or female, skin color, economic status, political party, immigration status, language, sexual identification as lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, queer, or transgender, we are united in our faith in the Triune God and enabled through the Spirit to treat each other as equals.
Paul doesn’t say those individual differences are nullified or that we should change by becoming exactly like the Christians around us, a homogenous group. He just insists that because of Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice, no member of God’s family is considered superior or inferior to any other member. Jesus is blind to our faults, our backgrounds, the things for which the people around us can choose to arbitrarily judge or reject us. Where we see foreigners, he sees his family, God’s children.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Being clothed in Christ takes effort, practice and self-discipline along with prayer and study. It takes courage to defy our self-centered and independent culture and act like Jesus both privately and publicly. It takes a deep relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit based on prayer and studying the Word. That takes time, energy, and the focus. Distractions and noise bombard us from screens, traffic, jobs, chores, and people, and spending time with God can be challenging unless you set time aside.
In our second lesson, the place where Jesus landed in Gerasenes was a Gentile area. That’s why they had pig farmers. The demon-possessed man probably wasn’t a Jew. As he did in Matthew 15 with the Gentile Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter, he used his power to heal a Gentile, deserving and not. He chose to be blind to everyone’s faults and past deeds, healing them and blessing them with mercy and grace.
When Jesus ordered the demons to leave the man, he demonstrated two of God’s attributes – power and mercy. The demons knew and said exactly who Jesus was and that he was indeed God’s Son. Jesus had mercy on the possessed man by using his power to heal and free him, ending his terrible suffering, restoring and clothing him in a way that no one could undo.  Jesus also allowed the demons the choice to enter the pigs, another form of mercy which is surprising to those of us who like the idea of vengeance, that people should get what they deserve. Jesus showed mercy to the man and to his tormentors.
As Paul wrote in Romans 12:19 “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
In first century demonology, it was believed that evil spirits couldn’t survive being in water. The demons may has assumed that they could live on in the swine, but the pigs had other ideas and chose to drown rather than be possessed. God’s vengeance fell on the evil spirits after all.
If justice under the law had been the basis for Jesus’ actions, the man who had been possessed for years would have had to become a Jew before Jesus could heal him, then pay the price for his past deeds and violence. But Jesus wasn’t interested in punishing him or allowing him to suffer any longer. He showed the same mercy and grace to him that he would later give to us through his suffering and death on the cross. He wanted the man to be well and to tell of what Jesus had done for him in his Gentile community. This was a clear demonstration of what Paul later wrote when he said there is no longer Jew or Greek.
         The people who lived in the area were frightened by Jesus’ power without being touched by his mercy. They had kept the possessed man in chains in an effort to protect both him and them. I’m sure some of them were tempted to hurt or kill him to solve the problem.  People who have unresolved guilt and sin feel threatened when they think they might be found out. Rather than asking Jesus to help them change, they asked him to leave.
         Do you have unresolved guilt in your heart which is keeping you from a life of joy in Christ? We’ve all done things we wish we could undo. Remember the blind justice of Christ. Put down that stick you’ve been beating yourself up with and accept the mercy and grace of your redeemer, then do what you can to make amends.
         Justice is getting the punishment you deserve for your sins. Mercy is not receiving that punishment. Grace is receiving Christ’s unmerited love and forgiveness by faith. When we repent and turn to him, he accepts us with open arms. This is blind justice. This is the treasure of the Gospel. God can do amazing and miraculous things. The one thing he cannot do is see our sin through the blood of Jesus. Hallelujah, and Amen.

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