“Give the King your justice, O God,” the Psalmist writes to begin the 72nd chapter — the lectionary text for this day of Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2017. “That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice. … He shall defend the needy among the people, he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.” This passage reads as if it may have been used as an inaugural hymn for the Kingship of Solomon, and liturgically the selection works as a coronation hymn for the Kingship of Jesus by the three Magi. Such a text is perhaps fitting for a week that witnessed the start of the 115th United States Congress, and a month that will witness the swearing in of the 45th President of the United States.
While the American political system does not operate under a monarchy, political power still operates in our context none-the-less. This hymn’s call for righteousness, justice, liberation, and the like are all calls that we can and ought wish be upon the lives of our governmental officials.
Give the government your justice, O God.
Such a prayer might be necessary in the coming years. This week, Americans witnessed that Republicans controlling the majority of Congress are not as wedded to ideas of justice as we might have hoped.
On Monday, Representative Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced a measure that would require the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent office, to report to the House Ethics Committee. Such a move had the potential of affording members of the House of Representatives a greater degree of protection from wrongdoing and unethical behavior. Fortunately, public backlash caused Republicans to back-peddle on the measure.
Justice does not come by curbing the power of organizations that seek to hold people accountable for their actions. Suggesting that the representatives of our Congress police themselves merely gives way to the bushing aside of wrongdoing.
For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper.
In a few weeks, the Senate will hold hearings on the president-elect’s Cabinet appointments. It is hard to imagine that the individuals assembled in this Cabinet will be able to hear the cries of the poor. With two Cabinet positions yet to be filled, the current Cabinet’s total wealth is nearly 4.7 billion dollars, not including the wealth of the president-elect.
While wealth should not disqualify a nominee from a Cabinet position, many of the nominees have been harsh opponents of the agencies they have been tapped to run. Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry serves as a case and point. Perry wanted to entirely cut the Department of Energy when he ran for president in 2011, yet now he has been tasked with running the agency.
As America transitions to the leadership of a new Congress and a new president, let us not offer up Psalm 72 as an empty prayer. Let us not cry out the words, “Give the government your justice, O God,” only to stop paying attention to the actions of our politicians until the next presidential election.
May the words of Psalm 72 be on our lips, but also in our feet. May it spur us to action rather than idle chatter. May we hold our politicians accountable for their actions, and may we relentlessly petition them to do justice and to seek the liberation of all those who are oppressed.
Write to your representatives. Flood their mailboxes and their inboxes. Call your congresswoman and congressman when you hear of legislation that does not speak to your sense of justice. Give to organizations, whose mission you support. For God does not call us to be a people of passivity, but a people of action.