From inception Watershed has sought to put justice at the forefront of our mission. Whether embedded into the themes of pop culture artifacts or real life events in our city, nation, and world, justice has become a hot topic. Over the course of the next few weeks Pastor of Justice Cedric Lundy is going to conduct a blog series aimed at unpacking our understanding of justice and why it’s fundamental to our community.
What’s enough? Abram and Lot both had more than enough wealth in the economy of the ancient world and yet there was seemingly not enough land to support both of them dwelling together. There was strife between the herdsmen of their livestock. Unlike Cain and Abel they come to an agreement that the tension needed to be resolved, but how? They decided to separate.
Rewind a chapter in the book of Genesis and we see the promise that God gives to Abram to bless him, make of him a great nation, and to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and in him all families of the earth shall be blessed.
Blessed is an interesting word. Now-a-days we largely use it to say that we’ve experienced some sort of divinely appointed stroke of good fortune, like an upfront parking spot at the mall on a Saturday, or to shut down a conversation on how we’re really doing. However, in ancient Jewish thought it was much more than simple good fortune accredited to the divine. To be blessed by someone was to be fortunate because someone was present to you. To bless another was to literally be with someone, to be present.
With that in mind, Lot was the first person mentioned to bless or be with Abram after God made the promise to bless or be present with Abram. Abram left behind everything he had known, his country and his kindred, to chase after what probably seemed like foolishness to everyone. Everyone except Lot who decides he is going to remain present with his uncle. Yet here they are about to separate because their herdsmen can’t get along, and it’s about to turn ugly.
In the account we receive in scripture it appears that Lot truly was cursed after separating from Abram. In Genesis 14 Lot and all he possess is taken captive in a war in the region where he settled. In Genesis 19 Lot barely escapes Sodom and Gomorrah before it is destroyed. A widower and completely broken and afraid, Lot, with his daughters, decided to live in a cave in the hills.
A cave… let that sink in for a minute. How scared, how scarred, how broken would you have to be by war and injustice to decide that the best, most safe place would be in a cave in the middle of nowhere? But wait, it gets better, and by better I mean worse.
We are told that, while in the cave in isolation having given up hope of having husbands, Lot’s daughters devise a plan to get their father drunk and have sex with him in order to get pregnant. Regardless of whether or not this is true or really happened, the point the text is making is that one of the sons of this incestuous encounter would be credited as the father of the Moabites who went on to be one of Israel’s enemies for generations to come.
For generations after, the offspring of Lot would be a curse to the offspring of Abram and their very existence considered a curse solely based on their origin via incest. How is it that the very first person to bless Abram in whom “all the families of the earth would be blessed” would come to be the poster child of accursed? It seems rather unjust, plain just not right.
That is until a young widow traveled back to the native land and kin of her mother-in-law.
In the hands of modern readers the story of Ruth as put forth in the sacred scriptures has often been used to promote godly womanhood. It’s been used to encourage and instill hope in those whose lives turned tragic. Yet, it’s not about godly womanhood nor is it really about God redeeming an individual. It’s about redemption and restoration of a family, an uncle and his nephew. It’s about a blessing becoming a curse becoming a blessing all over again.
Ruth is a Moabite, a daughter descended from Lot, and her new husband Boaz is an Israelite, a son descended from Abram. In the small book of Ruth we see what was understood to be, by ancient Jewish scholars, God joining back together two things that had been separated, Abram and Lot, in preparation for the arrival of God’s anointed King David. Ruth ends with a brief genealogy that places David as the great grandson of Boaz and Ruth.
So what is the significance of this story to our understanding of restorative justice?
One, the divine’s mode of operation when it comes to bringing about justice from injustice in our world seems to be through blessing or presence. The divine promises to bless Abram is presented as the catalyst to bless all the families of the earth.
Secondly, as alluded to already, Judaism understood or interpreted the sacred scriptures by looking for patterns that grew into something larger greater more inclusive and all-encompassing. King David is often seen as the archetype for “The Lord’s Anointed” who is most fully realized in the Messiah or Jesus The Christ. Jesus, who announced the poor, the meek, and the hungry, the very people who were most often associated with being cursed by God, were in fact blessed by God.
Taking those things into account could it be that the beginning of practicing restorative justice is as simple and complex as blessing others? Could it be that the beginning of restorative justice is to look for those who are separate and bring them back in? To be present to those who are broken, scared and scarred? To be joined with those who are often seen as a curse?
At Watershed we are energized by seeing people in our community who practice restorative justice by being a blessing to the marginalized, the excluded, the separate, and the other. There are no quick fixes. No fly by rescue missions. Truly restorative justice also restores us one to another so that we can be truly present to each other, fully human.