What Does It Look Like to Do Justice Now? | Sojourners


A vibrant illustration. On the left, Zechariah is portrayed with brown skin, a white beard, and yellow robes. The center shows hands reaching up. Among them, there's a scroll, bird, and three women hugging. To the right, there's a city on a tall mountain.

Illustration by Thiago Límon

What Does It Look Like to Do Justice Now?

The prophet Zechariah calls people of faith to ‘speak the truth’ in the face of today's injustices.
By Robert L. Foster

IN 1991, FOUR Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King, a 25-year-old African American man, nearly to death. It was caught on video. All the officers were acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon. The acquittals were followed by six days of rebellion with more than 50 associated deaths. At that time, I and many other white Christians fixated on our desire to see “peace” restored. Even in the face of graphic police brutality, I was unable to see the pernicious racial injustice that created the context for the riots. The white Christianity of my upbringing did not equip me with a biblical lens through which to discern the truth about racial injustice in the U.S. It would be nearly a full decade before I could finally begin to perceive it.

Nevertheless, in light of the role white Christian nationalists played in the Jan.6 riot, the number of pastors who preach against Black Lives Matter and critical race theory, and the deafening silence and stubborn inaction of many white Christians in the face of explicit cries for racial justice, I have to ask: Will this generation of white American Christians be just another in the long line to embolden racial injustice?

Where do we turn to find hope, inspiration, and guidance to help white Christians finally commit to our God-given vocation to do justice instead of holding tightly to our idolatrous commitment to white supremacy? I look to the little-known biblical prophet Zechariah and how he called a generation returned from exile to live out God’s call to do justice.

Zechariah’s call to repentance

LITTLE IS KNOWN about the person of Zechariah, with few details of his life revealed in the book that bears his name. Only two other books in the rest of the Hebrew Bible reference this particular Zechariah — Haggai and Ezra. In Ezra 5:1 and 6:14, we learn that Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and that both prophesied to the Jews in the days of Zerubbabel, governor of Judaea under the Persians, encouraging Zerubbabel and the residents of Jerusalem to finish rebuilding the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians 70 years earlier.

Where the texts of Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah agree is that these two prophets, Zechariah and Haggai, preached to a small band of people under the reign of the Persian emperor Darius I when Jerusalem and Yehud, the small district where Jerusalem was situated, were insignificant and beleaguered communities on the southern boundaries of empire.

While the Book of Haggai records a series of messages intended to persuade this small band to rebuild the Temple, the Book of Zechariah is not so clearly focused on Temple (re)building. Rather, the opening of the book (1:1-6) calls the people to repent, to return to the Lord as the Lord has returned to the people. The prophet Zechariah’s message reminds the people of how the generations prior to the exile refused to respond to the preaching of earlier prophets until it was too late, repenting only after they found themselves in exile and realized that the words of the prophets had caught up to them.

Most of the book’s first six chapters report visions that Zechariah received in a single night, visions emphasizing the Lord’s return to the people. The visions also call the high priest Joshua to walk in God’s ways and keep God’s requirements (3:7) and warn of judgment against thieves and those who swear falsely in God’s name (5:3-4).

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The cover image for the May 2023 issue of Sojourners, featuring an illustration of blue disembodied hands pulling white strings in various directions in the shape of the Enneagram symbol. The background is a mixture of bright colors of the rainbow.
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Robert L. Foster, author of The Theology of the Books of Haggai and Zechariah, is senior lecturer in religion and New Testament at the University of Georgia.