23Crooks accept secret bribes
to keep justice
from being done.
24Anyone with wisdom knows
what makes good sense,
but fools can never
make up their minds.
25Foolish children bring sorrow
and pain to their parents.
26It isn't fair
to punish the innocent
and those who do right.
On the surface of it, these four proverbs don’t seem to have a common thread. All of them land squarely in the category of the blindingly obvious: of course it’s unfair to punish the innocent! Probably they weren’t really intended to be read as a unit, as this section of Proverbs is really a list of Solomon’s wisdom aphorisms. So why does he remind us of things we already know?
Justice is, most often, inconvenient. This is God’s justice, remember, not the human variety; it’s about making sure that people who are poor, hurting, or outcast are valued, rather than insisting that people who misbehave get punished.
Ensuring that people who have been shoved aside or have lost their way are treated as God’s beloved gets in the way of others of us getting what we want, when we want it. Good sense tells us that there’s enough for everyone, and to spare, but in our clamour to secure what we want for ourselves, others get set aside. Of course criminals pay bribes (to other criminals!) so that they can continue to do crime – but most of us in the First World contribute avidly to political and economic and sometimes military systems that ensure that we will continue to be first.
As parent to all the children of the world, God must often be pained to see the lengths to which some of his children go to subvert his justice for their own pleasure. It’s the innocent who pay, and it isn’t fair.
What about us? Will we seek this inconvenient justice so that others may be raised up, even at cost to ourselves? Or will we bring sorrow instead to our heavenly parents?
Father God, forgive us when our actions, or our lack of action, prevents your justice from being done in the lives of all your children. Grant us the wisdom to embrace a different path, and so bring joy to you, and grace to the innocent. Amen.