Jesus chastised the Pharisees for overlooking “the more important matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23). He identified these as justice, mercy and faithfulness. Whether these three things alone constitute the most important matters or are representative of them is a discussion worth having, but this much is clear: justice, mercy and faithfulness are top tier concerns in the kingdom of God! They are a substantial part of what is involved when Jesus tells us to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness in 6:33. That the Pharisees weren’t doing this is crystal clear and why Jesus said our righteousness must exceed theirs (5:19).
Justice is doing the right thing regardless of the status quo. That “everyone” slacks off at work or take things home that don’t belong to them is no excuse for disciples to do so. That some owners pay workers only what they are required to by law rather than what they are worth or play games with their hours to keep them from getting benefits—that’s not right either. Justice is not about wanting to change the world—it’s about wanting to change yourself and seeing where God takes it from there.
Mercy is going the extra mile in terms of compassion. With social media has come a great emphasis upon social justice. Like anything else humans are involved in, there is much good and then there is also a lot of gnat-straining. People are outraged over everything: someone appropriating a different culture by wearing its clothes, that people a century or two ago didn’t live by the standards we do today (if it’s any consolation they would be equally upset by the way we live), or that an athlete’s tweets as a teenager were insensitive. Maybe most troubling though is the lack of mercy that is shown. Someone is singled out for something, there is an enormous rush to judgment followed by a feeding frenzy. We take little mistakes that are best handled at the level at which they were made and broadcast them over the planet. There is no mercy in that. We use our smart phones to do dumb things.
Mercy is when we treat people the way we would want to be treated when we make a mistake. We don’t want to be excused, but neither do we want to be executed on the internet either. We are willing to bear the consequences of our actions, but we also like to receive forgiveness and compassion that will help us to do better in the future.
Finally, faithfulness is never-ending loyalty. It’s not the blind fidelity you see practiced by some families and friends that overlooks and rationalizes–that’s toxic. It is the kind of loyalty that calls people to something better and higher. It is Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, Barnabas hanging in their with John Mark and Jonathan helping David “find strength in God.”
In 2010, Abby Sunderland was 16 years old as she attempted to sail around the world solo in her 40 foot sloop Wild Eyes. She didn’t complete her voyage—Sunderland was rescued somewhere in the Indian Ocean after the boat’s mast was broken by a rogue wave. She was picked up by a fishing ship and Wild Eyes had to be abandoned. It showed up at the end of 2018 near Australia. Some believe the boat has circled the globe at least once in the eight years it has been at sea–it’s still doing what it was supposed to do. The writer of Proverbs will speak of “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24). Like Wild Eyes, they will go around the world for you. Even if you forget them, they will not forget you.
Justice, mercy and faithfulness. These are the things that make life worth living and how we bear witness of the kingdom of God.