This week we hear from Grace Shemwell, recent Valpo and SALT alumni, on what justice is to her. Grace attends the University of Missouri, where she is studying Juris Doctor. Grace gives us her perspective on the unique situation happening in Missouri at this time.
“35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)
I’ve been asked to write about what Justice is to me. I find this ironic, as I am a law student in the midst of a tumultuous and some would say unjust state of Missouri. But for me, Missouri has always been a beautiful and warm home. I love this state so much, included the St. Louis area in which I was born. I’ve found it hard over the last few months to reconcile the two concepts. I’ve come to a school that is brimming with passionate and caring individuals, but I’ve come to a building whose walls still echo with the sounds of the plights of Ferguson. One of my classmates and her son were tear gassed outside their home simply for standing still for more than five seconds. On the other hand I have classmates who are serving on police forces, putting their lives at danger daily. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that people took sides. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the school erupted with the birthing pains of a search for justice. Suddenly everyone was using the terms “us,” and “them.” On both sides- (though there really shouldn’t be sides in the first place) – people distanced each other, and dehumanized each other. It became difficult to shed our wounded identities at the door and enter an institution of learning that tries so hard to focus objectively on the very policies and issues raging outside. But that is what Christ calls us to do, it is how he justifies us, and it is how we in turn can create social justice.
Christ begs us to leave our identities as privileged law students at the cross (as we were all in this school privileged in one way or another to get here). He tells us to put our identities and our prejudices of the “least of theses” to the side. He tells humanity that the “them” is just the same as the “us”. Further, He tells us to do for the least of these. We are to take action. Simply throwing money at the least of these will not do. Simply talking about the least of these will not do. We must serve them in the best capacity we can. And so, I come daily to this school, and I work to do something. I work to show mercy, grace, and love in the image of our Lord, the image in which we were made so many generations ago when from dust and ribs we were formed.
Doing acts of love and mercy are not what most people have in mind when they think of Justice. In fact, the staple classroom saying by my professors is that we are to “Never say the f-word: fair.” The law in this country was not constructed to be fair. It was not constructed to show mercy to the poor and uneducated. How can you exercise your constitutional rights if you cannot read them? The social injustices we see are many times the side effects of legal justice. Justice in itself has come to mean two different things. Webster’s Dictionary states that:
1) The maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments; the administration of law; especially the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.
2) The quality of being just, impartial, or fair; the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action; righteousness
What are we called, as disciples studying the law, to do? What are we called, as disciples facing the tear stained faces of Ferguson, to do? What are we called, as disciples facing child abuse, broken foster care systems, homelessness, lack of healthcare, broken inner city school systems, violence and gang cycles, war, big government, poverty, food deserts, mass incarceration, micro aggression, and all these things that culminated in the perfect storm that is and was Ferguson. What are we to do?
I am called to change the law so that it reflects the Justice that Christ calls for. I am called to create a single definition of Justice. A definition that administers responsibility and culpability while keeping humanity in tact. I am called to give aid to the least of these, caught up in a system that condemns them for being “the least of these”. I am called to shed my identity at the door and work with others in these halls to go and do something.
What is Justice? It is taking action for the least of us.”