So often we are called to serve justice. At Baptism, we vow to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect dignity of every human being. In the Bible, justice is mentioned 194 times. In Psalm 72, the writer asks ‘Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.” In the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the prophet exhorts Israel to, “ learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” And in the Book of the Prophet Micah we are told,”what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? In the Gospels, Jesus rebukes the pharisees for their neglect of justice. “For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others.”
Despite the fact the Bible and our baptismal faith calls us to be focused on the concept of justice, I find it interesting how little time we spend defining what justice means from the perspective of the Divine. John Dominic Crosson in his book, The Greatest Prayer; The Rediscovering of the Revolutionary Nature of the Lord’s Prayer, writes that justice in the modern day vocabulary comes in two forms. The first and most familiar is retributive justice. The is the form of justice of our court system. The form of justice most easily defined by the idiom, “if you do the crime, you pay the time.” It is the justice of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” This Crosson writes is the more human form of justice, it tends to be fairly concrete in nature and rarely takes into account issues of systemic injustice.
The second form of justice Crosson writes about is distributive justice. This he claims is what divine justice is about. This form of justice is concerned with the fair and equitable distribution of resources. It is the form of justice that is being discussed in the context of progressive taxation, access to health care, adequate nutrition, decent housing and basic education. It is the form of justice which seeks to assure the playing field is leveled enough so everyone has the opportunity to grow to their fullest potential. This is the form of justice we as a christian people are called to seek for all people.
I have chosen to delve into this topic this morning, not despite the fact it is Marian Sunday, but because it is Marian Sunday.
I find it interesting how the Church for centuries has down played the radical role of Mary in the the Gospel. For centuries she has been depicted as this meek, mild , pure and subservient young woman fully aglow in the aftermath of child birth. Rarely do we think of Mary for the woman she may have truly been. A rugged, disheveled and street smart teen ager who understood survival. How else would she have endured the long trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem nine months pregnant. How else would she have endured giving birth in a barn surrounded by farm animals while receiving by vagrants.
If you want to find a true image of Mary somply look to the words of the Magnificat. These words are not the words of a demur innocent young woman. Instead the latter half of her canticle are the words of a worldly young woman with a rebel fighter’s spirit.
52 He (God) has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Unlike the image printed on Christmas cards, celebrated in town squares and televised in Christmas specials, Mary’s immediate words to her cousin Elizabeth are not of peace and goodwill towards men. Instead, her immediate words are words of upheaval and revolution. Words that are similar in intent to what her son will preach thirty years later at the Sermon on the Mount.
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you* on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
All of this has me begging to ask, “what happens when the justice we claim to seek and celebrate is not necessarily to our advantage, or in fact may require great sacrifice on our part. When the time comes will we be willing to make the sacrifice that we often celebrate and God is calling us to make. In theory, I suspect we are willing to say yes especially when thoughts of the Divine kingdom are conjured along side the message of justice. Who wouldn’t say yes while focused on the promise of a world free of sorrow and despair. But if this past year’s election cycle along with the eight years of battling over social reform has taught us anything about the American psyche what it has taught us is, that we are all for equity and justice until it affects our individual bottom lines.
I share this , not necessarily as a criticism, but as an observation of our frailty as human beings. So often I have heard it said that the message of the Gospel appeals more to the poor than to the rich. And this is precisely because on the surface it appears the poor have everything to gain and the comfortable have the most to lose.
That is, of course, if we strictly approach faith and life from the micro and temporal level. The Gospel are best approached from the macro level. Christ’s message to the people of ancient Israel had more to do with overcoming the systemic realities of Roman oppression than with personal gain. Christ’s message had more to do with being in harmony with God’s dream for creation than with overthrowing the Emperor. Christ’s message had more to do with sharing the abundance of God’s resources for everyone, than how to divvy them up among all people.
When we approach the Gospels from the macro direction or ultimately from the view point of the Divine what we find is, while there may be sacrifice in one area of our lives, the gains we make in other areas far out weigh the costs to the other. Or as Mary sings for us to day, despite the risk and the hardship she was called to endure on behalf of the Almighty, her soul still celebrated God,
My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.