Jeremiah 5:1-9 paints a hard, uncompromising picture of sin. Jeremiah is called by God to search through the city for a truly just, good person, untouched by the taint of the society. He looks from the lowest corner where the beggar sits to the height of power where sits the ruler of the realm. Wherever he looks he finds injustice, oppression, selfishness, & greed.
We can look at this as a stunning indictment, a hopeless prognosis. I think instead we can hear it as a description of what systemic injustice does.
We see it in the recent findings of the Justice Department about the situation at Ferguson – that on each level, racism and biased practices existed and continue to exist in policing in Ferguson. It is not that each policeman or police woman involved is evil, but that the system itself is broken – or worse yet, working as it was intended when in the days of slavery and Jim Crow, we shaped our criminal justice system to keep people of color in “their place.” We see it in the probably good-hearted magistrates at courthouses across the south-land and mid-west every time they follow their state law and turn away gay couples who come asking for marriage, just doing what their governor or legislature asks. They are not individually evil but they are swept up in their culture of prejudice and prop up the system of injustice.
Systemic injustice draws us in like a net and, unless we actively seek to resist its clutches, leads us to become complicit in injustices. Just as there were many good-hearted people who, by looking away at the consequences of what they are doing, had their patriotism in Germany make the holocaust possible, so failing to confront the injustices in our society and how we unknowingly reinforce these by our choices, also keeps injustice going.
None of us are innocent, with clean hands, in a nation of wars, of innocent people of color imprisoned and executed because of systemic racism, with people working long hours without enough to pay their bills. But none of us are helpless either. Like Jeremiah we can roam the city, we can survey, we can look for where and how injustice dwells. And in our own ways we can choose actions that stand against society’s injustice.