There are two kinds of justice in the Bible.*
Legal justice is the letter of the law and is restrictive and punitive.
Social justice is the compassion of God, God’s justice to rebalance human relationships, with a special focus on lifting up those who have been put low by society.
We always need legal justice: no texting, for example, while driving, and stop when the light is red, and if you violate either law, you'll be fined, or worse!
Social justice is broader and deeper - it's about the maintenance of life based upon the Kingdom of God.
It's about caring.
Opening doors of opportunity and keeping things in balance.
The Bible has dozens of verses about strangers and aliens, widows and orphans - because they're the ones who are usually forgotten when social justice weakens, and often the ones who are hurt when legal justice is overly emphasized.
Jesus paid special attention to the “outsider,” and he paid quite a price for that. Those who were into "legal justice" (Pharisees) didn't like the way he showed love and acceptance to those who had been excluded because of disease, physical handicaps or ethnic and social status.
Legal justice is important, but it's of limited application.
Social justice is huge, and it has the widest kind of application - in terms of how we love God and love our neighbor.
People get angry, I think, when they focus too much on legal justice, trying to apply legal justice to situations that require social justice.
By way of example, in the South years ago, legal justice required people of color to sit in the back of the bus. When Rosa Parks was just too tired to walk to the back of the bus, she was arrested because of legal justice.
I think by now we all realize that legal justice – justice by the letter of the law – falls short. What was needed for Rosa Parks was social justice, a justice that sees life from a higher perspective.
Without social justice, legal justice becomes hard-hearted and small-minded. It’s social justice that transforms our hearts.
Social justice is where Jesus lives.
*Many thanks to my friend, Kathy Verbiest Baldock.