The Bagmati Bridge crosses the river and joins the two ancient cities of Kathmandu and Patan. Its four lanes of traffic emit sticky black fumes, which mingle with the oily miasma rising from the filthy river, creating a fug that stings your eyes and lingers in the back of your throat all day. The “Welcome to Kathmandu” plinth at the Patan end provides shelter for several elderly ladies who beg from the cars crawling along the asphalt, while the bronze lion-dog at the Kathmandu end stares stoically down from his pillar at the mayhem of modern life.
Under the lion-dog most mornings, you’ll find a small crowd of men, lounging against the bridge rails, squatting on the footpath, smoking cheap cigarettes, chatting in groups. They are poor men, dressed mostly in worn western clothing, plastic flip-flops on their feet, anxiety in their eyes. They’re here to get work – daily work. Some carry the tools of their trade: hammers and saws, blade sharpeners or cement trowels, or just a namlo, a woven headstrap used for carrying loads.
They need this day’s work. They have wives and children at home, elderly parents. They have no savings, no security. What they make each day buys the rice they eat that night. If the day’s work pays well, perhaps there’ll be some vegetables as well. If there’s no work…
The fittest will be hired first, the strong-looking, taller men, the ones with skills. The smaller ones, the thin, sickly ones, the ones with wracking coughs and wheezing chests, their chances are not so good. Hunched shoulders and sunken eyes don’t sell well.
Matthew records Jesus’ story about the workers waiting to be hired, just like the men at the end of the bridge (Matthew 20). At three-hour intervals the farmer comes, hiring more men for his vineyards. And then, when the day is done, he pays them all the same!
“Unjust!” cry the first-hired. “We’ve worked all day!”
“Thank God,” sigh the last-hired. They clutch their pay in calloused hands and slip away to the market. There’ll be a good meal at home tonight.
We struggle with stories like this. “Justice” for us is tangled up with our notion of fairness, with our rights, with what we think we deserve. We can see the first-hired workers’ point. We think of La Justicia, the blindfolded goddess with the scales and the sword.
But God is never blindfolded – he sees. He sees more clearly than we do. He sees beyond this world to the world he made, in its perfection and balance and harmony, in its justice and right-ness. He sees Joseph and Simeon and Judah, waiting for work in first century Palestine, and tells a story about them. He sees Ramesh and Shiva and Lal Bahadur, waiting for work in twenty-first century Nepal, and asks: “Why are they still here? Where is my justice?”
God’s justice isn’t about us, it’s about him.
It isn’t about what we deserve, but what he wants to give – full and abundant life, the way it should be, for everyone, deserving or not. We Christians should understand that, above all others. We are called to be part of it, this ministry of reconciliation.
“Seek justice,” says Isaiah. “Act justly,” says Micah. “Let justice roll,” says Amos.
Let it roll like a river.
Breathing the Bible is an INF Australia blog series, exploring how life and service in Nepal influenced the way people read and respond to Scripture.
Lyn Jackson served as Education Advisor and Communications Advisor with United Mission to Nepal along with her husband, Daryl, from 1999–2002 and 2010–2016.
Other posts in the series:
Breathing The Bible: Family
Breathing The Bible: Fellowship
Breathing The Bible: Prayer
Breathing The Bible: Story
Breathing The Bible: Sacrifice
Breathing The Bible: Kingdom
Breathing The Bible: Wedding
Breathing The Bible: Gain