Sharon Prior, the co-founder of Sophia Network, reflects on justice and how we might treat girls and young women justly around the world.
With the International Day of the Girl Child celebrated on 11 October 2013 it helps us to think about what justice for girls around the world would actually look like.
There are two Hebrew words in the Old Testament that mean ‘justice’. Mishpat and tzadeqa and these two words give different facets of what Justice means. Throughout the Bible it is clear that ‘justice’ is part of God’s character.
Mishpat means to treat people equitably. It is about acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty. So it is about giving people the same punishment, care or provision that is due to them. It is used a lot to describe how widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor should be treated. The justness of society is judged by how they treat these groups of people. God protects, loves and defends those with the least power and we are encouraged to do the same. This is what it means to ‘act justly’.
The word ‘tzadeqah’ refers to a life of right relationships – this word is about ‘being just’ and is often translated as ‘righteousness’. This can be interpreted as meaning how we conduct ourselves from a moral perspective, but it actually means more than that. In the Bible, tzadeqah refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity. These two words tzadeqah and mishpat are often used together in the Bible.
‘Tzadeqah’ is about living in right relationship with God and with other people – it is sometimes called primary justice. Whereas ‘mishpat’ is more about what should happen when things are out of balance and people are not treated fairly – this is sometimes called rectifying justice. Of course, Jesus demonstrated both types of justice in his ministry.
In Luke 4:14 -21 Jesus launches His public ministry and In his first public speech he introduces the purpose of His coming and His mission in the world. As we read this passage we notice that His mission was all about caring for and helping those who were treated unfairly – the poor, the prisoners and the oppressed.
Many girls around the world are poor, prisoners to unscrupulous people who abuse them and oppressed by people who have power over them.
It could be argued that if ‘tzadeqah’ were demonstrated to girls around the world then we would not need ‘mishpat’. So how can we take the true meaning of justice for God’s word and apply it to our daily lives? If we are going to change the world for the better for girls and young women then this needs to happen.
Questions for reflection:
- In what ways is your lifestyle encouraging a ‘tzadeqah’ type of justice?
- How can we help girls around the world to receive this type of justice?
- What could you do to help a rectifying type of justice be more evident in dealings with girls and women around the world?