“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Nicholas Wolterstorff on Matthew 25

Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff provided the Alan Keith Lucas lecture at the recent NACSW ( North American Association of Christians in Social Work ). He spent a significant amount of the lecture discussing the Matthew 25 scripture regarding judgement: the separation of the sheep and the goats. He made the point that the translations which have predominated over the years may be in error in translating the word dikaios as "the righteous" rather than as "the just" or "the just ones". No doubt this distinction will be dealt with in depth in the book on justice which he has sent off for publication. However, it is an interesting distinction. So to fail to do justice to the "least of these" is to fail to do justice to Jesus himself.

One of the primary points I think he made was that justice implies the worth in another. I strive to facilitate justice for another for reasons unrelated to myself (my righteousness) and more related to the desire for all people to live under just conditions. I go beyond just aiding victims to attacking victimizers.

He also made the comment that in the Beatitudes, that the translation should not be "Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness" but rather "Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice" or doing justice. He commented that those who are righteous aren't typically persecuted for doing righteous things. Rather those who do justice or are constantly advocating for justice can be quite annoying ie. the recipients of persecution.

He also talked about how the Bible uses the word "downtrodden," the implication being that they are being actively trodden down.

In summary, he said, attentiveness to justice means attentiveness to the worth of another. This is a fascinating take on a section of scripture often used in relation to persons with disabilities or mental retardation. The least of these deserve justice because of their worth. Their worth comes from their humanity, not their cognitive or other ability levels. Disability does not decrease worth and therefore does not diminish one's right to justice.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My desire prior to replying to the post would be to read this personally as I have issues with the discussions. When looking up the word righteous in the terms of Matthew 25:37, it is important to take into consideration the context throughout Matthew. Dikaios is used five times throughout Matthew as an adjective, describing a noun. It is used in reference to those who are saved, comparing the difference in the lost and the saved. The term righteous in this context is discussing those who are on the right hand of the Father when He judges, this is an action word. I believe the author is playing with the ideas of Semantics which is not the issue here. The term in Matthew is in the accusative case in Greek, speaking to the person, not the action. The question is what makes someone righteous? Not works, but Faith! The focus is to be on Jesus not on the issues of disability or the needy, if we are taking the literal translation in account here as the author of the book is. Matthew 25 continues to discuss the view of the sheep as righteous and the goats as cursed. Possibly the view of the author is to say that the mentally disabled or the diseased were viewed as unclean, as they were not allowed in the temple or in public worship ceremonies because of their uncleanliness. This was a view of their sin, as they must have done something wrong in order to receive this disease, possibly making them seen as a goat in the passage which is incorrect. Jesus is making the point that no matter what you did, for who ever you did it to, it was because and for Christ alone! The issue in this passage is not the poor or oppressed, it is the issue of the distinction between sheep and goats and the service to the Lord in all they did.
In regards to the passage on the Beatitudes, it is also written in the accusative case. It says that those who have a godly life will experience persecution. To take the passage to a broader context, we need to see who they are addressed to, the disciples. It is not referring to the righteousness or justice. Why were prophets persecuted? Not for helping the disabled.... even the Pharisees were “righteous” yet their righteousness did not come from Christ.
I would like to read what the author is attempting to portray as he argues against these passages or the Greek translations. Illness, disabilities, or physical impairments do not deem one as less in God’s eyes, and I believe that is where the author may be going. I will agree with the author that their value does not come from cognitive ability in any way, but solely from their humanity. They are children of the King, royalty regardless of their differences.